Secrecy shrouds Minnesota budget talks, special session likely

A taxpayer-funded special session is a near-certainty as Gov. Tim Walz and legislative leaders have been unable to strike a budget deal despite four straight days of talks conducted in secret.

Walz, House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka met sporadically Friday. Gazelka said progress had been made but would not explain. The others have not spoken publicly about the negotiations since Thursday.

“I can’t say,” Gazelka said, when a reporter asked about the issues being discussed. “Because the negotiations right now are too sensitive to go into any details about where we’re at, other than to say we’re close.”

The three canceled a scheduled appearance on Twin Cities Public Television’s weekly “Almanac” show amid the stalemate, forgoing a tradition at the end of session. Democratic House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler and Republican state Sen. Roger Chamberlain stood in, with Winkler joking that they were the “junior varsity.”

Walz and top lawmakers appear poised to push through the weekend for an elusive deal, but the Legislature would likely not be able to pass a compromise budget before the end of session on Monday. Walz would have to call them back into a special session.

Senate Republicans on Thursday advanced a plan to keep the lights on at state agencies if Minnesota government shuts down July 1 amid the impasse. But Republicans adjourned a Senate floor session Friday evening without voting on the measure, which Democrats oppose and call “premature.”

All sides are under intense pressure from their respective bases: Senate Republicans not to raise taxes, and Walz and House Democrats not to give in on their agenda during their first year in control.

“We’ve got the only divided legislature in the country. The only way we get compromise is if everybody comes out a little bit unhappy with what comes out of it,” said Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, during his public television appearance.