Walz: ‘Shame on us' if Minnesota leaders can't end budget impasse

After hours of secretive negotiations over the state budget impasse, Gov. Tim Walz gave a potential window into the dealmaking process Wednesday evening.

Walz left the bargaining session around 7 p.m. to make brief remarks at an event near the state Capitol to honor fallen law enforcement officers. His speech veered into the current state of affairs when he referenced “chaos” at the Capitol.

“Shame on us if we can’t figure out a way to work with one another. Shame on us if we can’t figure out a way to work together to better the lives of Minnesota,” Walz said.

The governor and legislative leaders have been negotiating the nearly $50 billion budget for more than a week and face Monday’s constitutional deadline to adjourn the legislative session. With each passing hour, a special session becomes more likely – especially after they blew through a self-imposed deadline to strike a deal on overall spending targets Wednesday.

On the way to the law enforcement ceremony, Walz declined to say whether any progress had been made on two of the major issues: a gas tax increase and an extension of the state’s tax on medical providers.

“Not now guys,” said Teddy Tschann, a Walz spokesman, as the governor left for the ceremony.

Negotiations have been happening in secret since Tuesday morning inside two rooms at the Capitol, one being the governor’s personal office. Walz and lawmakers held marathon sessions Tuesday before taking frequent breaks Wednesday.

The talks have seen a little of everything: during Wednesday morning’s negotiations, Walz entered with an entourage of 16 people. During a brief evening session, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan appeared with her six-year-old daughter, Siobhan, whom Walz referred to as their “top negotiator.”

No one has provided details on the major negotiating points, other than vague comments like “we’re still working.” Senate Republicans have long vowed not to vote for a single penny of gas tax increase, while Walz and House Democrats each proposed a 20-cent per gallon hike. That’s seen as the most difficult issue to solve.

Even if a deal is struck soon, bill drafters would still need to write each of the budget bills before lawmakers pass them on the House and Senate floors. 

Special sessions have been frequent in Minnesota during budget years, but even with divided government this year, Walz and legislative leaders had promised to do things differently this year. If they can’t strike an accord by June 30, the state will enter a government shutdown. That happened most recently in 2011.