No special session on horizon, leaving billions on table

A meeting between Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and top lawmakers Monday afternoon yielded no progress toward a special session, one day after the regular session fell apart.

Lawmakers failed to pass $4 billion in tax cuts and $4 billion in additional spending on public schools, public safety, nursing homes and transportation before Sunday night's deadline. The Legislature returned to the Capitol on Monday, but only to hear speeches from retiring lawmakers. The state constitution says no bills can pass on the last day of the session.

Only Walz can call an overtime period, and he set up the meeting with House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller to talk about their next steps. The two lawmakers left the meeting through a separate door, avoiding reporters and leaving the explaining to Walz.

"They did not give us a timeline," Walz said, asked about a potential special session. "They did not close the door. But they did not give us a timeline. They did say they would give us a day or two, so it’s certainly not going to be today or tomorrow."

It could be never, too.

With the legislative session over, the campaign season began. Walz's presumptive Republican opponent, Dr. Scott Jensen, held a rally with supporters on the Capitol steps.

He praised Republican lawmakers for doing "exactly what they had to do" by stopping the $4 billion in spending bills. Jensen said he would've liked to see the $4 billion tax bill pass along with limited spending on police, literacy programs, and long-term care facilities.

The party that wins November's election should control the budget surplus, he said.

"Let’s go ahead and have the election in November. And then in November, we’ll decide who’s going to be there in January. And then we’ll have a full exploration of this," Jensen, a family physician from Chaska, told reporters.

Lawmakers on Saturday agreed to a $4 billion tax relief package that calls for the elimination of state taxes on Social Security income, a small income tax rate cut, and an expansion of the renter's credit and an expansion of the renter's credit. But the tax bill couldn't pass without the spending bills, because they were linked within a larger agreement.

Almost all of the major spending bills did not pass. Among them: a $1 billion public schools bill, a $1 billion health and human services bill, a $450 million public safety bill, a $850 million transportation bill, and a $1.4 billion public construction bill.

Just after midnight, Hortman said there was a "brief window of time" where an agreement remained possible. She wanted to see a special session before Memorial Day weekend, she said.

"I think it’s a very good deal. I think it will look better to everyone after they get a good night’s sleep," Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, told reporters.

But Miller, speaking just after Hortman, said Republicans were not interested in a special session.

"The deadline was midnight, and that deadline has come and gone," said Miller, R-Winona. "We'll come back next session and finish it up."

If a special session does happen, it would be the 10th since Walz took office. Many were because of the COVID-19 pandemic, though others happened because lawmakers missed their end-of-session deadlines.

Walz appears to be hoping that election-year pressures will get to lawmakers once they go back to their districts. "When they go home, they're going to hear from people," Walz said in a quiet Capitol hallway Monday afternoon.

But the opposite could also hold true.

At least 45 members of the Legislature are retiring this year, meaning they won't face voters this fall. Most gave retirement speeches on Monday, reflecting on their legacies and talking about how much they're looking forward to spending time with their families.