'Transformational' session: Budgets signed, cannabis skepticism explained

Governor Tim Walz signed off on a record-breaking budget for Minnesota Wednesday and celebrated the agenda passed by his Democratic allies in the legislature.

The governor signed what he’s calling the "One Minnesota" budget. It was mostly a ceremonial signing with Governor Walz actually signing several separate budget bills today. The budget adds up to $71.5 billion, by far the most spending in Minnesota history.

"I keep hearing about this: ‘What’s this going to mean?’" the governor said. "Well, we’ll find out. We’re pretty sure it’s going to mean a fairer, more inclusive, better, and more prosperous Minnesota."

Walz highlighted investments in education and tax rebates, with a special note about the increased child tax credits. The state will give parents $1,750 per child, which Democrats say will cut child poverty by a third.

The long list of new laws and budgets will set this state on a new course, but will it be smooth sailing or a crash? FOX 9 talked one-on-one with leaders of both parties in the House about their big takeaways and what the people back home will start to notice as a result.

When the last gavel landed on this Minnesota legislature, a record-setting budget included billions of dollars in new taxes and billions in tax relief. The state budget office is still working out how much, but Democrats argue they spread out tax breaks to benefit Minnesotans who need it most.

"We really looked at the things families need to make their lives more affordable, and we directed the tax cuts to those families, in particular," said Speaker of the House Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park. "And then seniors that are in the lower or middle incomes that really need help to get by."

The budget also baked in new taxes and fees. For example, more sales taxes in the seven-county Metro, plus a gas tax and a 50-cent fee on deliveries that are not food and are valued at over $100.

Democrats say the cost of repairing roads and bridges has gone up, so transportation funding needs to follow suit. Republicans criticized the extra burden that’ll put on people living paycheck to paycheck at a time when the state could’ve afforded to protect pocketbooks.

"I think what would’ve been transformational was to have taken a $17.5 billion surplus and actually returned it to the taxpayers of Minnesota," said Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring. "And then instead of increasing the budget, look at ways to reduce government spending and allow Minnesotans to keep more of the money they’re actually earning."

Democrats have called this a transformational session as they passed bills establishing abortion rights and gun control.

Speaker Hortman said she’s proudest of paid family and medical leave and investments in early childhood education, including free meals for kids at public schools.

Leader Demuth argued Republican voices got left out and argued the transformation would come at the ballot box when Minnesotans feel the effects of the gas tax and the legalization of recreational cannabis. Five House Republicans supported that bill, but even the Speaker admitted she was initially skeptical of recreational cannabis.

"It’s not my favorite bill because I don’t like the smell of cannabis, but I think the social justice piece there is so important," she said.

People with convictions for marijuana possession will have their records expunged when the bill becomes law.

So what’s next?

Demuth is ready to head home, and Hortman says she’ll actually be pulling weeds soon, now that there’s no agenda at the Capitol.

"I think what we have in mind right now is reuniting with our families and seeing our loved ones during daylight hours," the Speaker said. "And for the folks from Greater Minnesota, seeing their families at all."

Hortman and Demuth agree they’ll have some cleaning up to do in the 2024 session, which is scheduled to start in February, but there could be a special session later this year to deal with healthcare mergers.

Gov. Walz still has bills to sign. He’ll sign the paid family and medical leave bill Thursday and cannabis legalization next week. He won’t commit to signing a bill establishing a minimum wage for drivers at ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft.