4 questions as Minnesota lawmakers head into budget negotiations

Gov. Tim Walz delivers his State of the State address.
Gov. Tim Walz and Walz and leaders from the House and Senate met over the weekend and will meet again Monday to try and strike a deal on top-line numbers for each area of the next two-year state budget.
Evan Frost | MPR News

It's the beginning of the end — probably.

The DFL Minnesota House and Senate passed their budget bills last week, but there is a lot of negotiating ahead before they agree on a final plan. There are big differences between the DFL-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate, and DFL Gov. Tim Walz has the final say on whether bills become law.

Walz and leaders from the House and Senate met over the weekend and will meet again Monday to try and strike a deal on top-line numbers for each area of the next two-year state budget. Legislative conference committees will meet this week to try to hash out some details.

The biggest disagreements are over how much government should spend and tax for the next two years, and Minnesota is no stranger to messy ending legislative sessions.

Here are four questions as lawmakers head into endgame negotiations:

1) The governor and leaders met this weekend. Did they make any headway on a budget deal?

They've met twice now, on Friday and Saturday, and plan to regroup Monday. Staffers for the governor's office described the talks as productive, but there are still "fundamental" disagreements on spending for health care and education, according to the governor's office.

Those are the two largest areas of the state budget and where Democrats want to spend more money, so that suggests they still have a way to go before a deal is made.

2) Early in the session, the governor and legislative leaders set May 6 as the day they would have three-way targets on the budget, right?

That's right. By Monday, the governor and the leaders wanted to have agreed on big picture numbers for total spending in each major budget area, so they could fill in details over the next few weeks. Budget targets are numbers that represent the total amount of spending for a certain area of the budget such as education, health and human services.

And while that might sound simple, the main disagreement between Democrats and Republicans right now is over how much money to spend on state government. They are apart by billions of dollars, so just agreeing on a number is a big deal.

3) What are the biggest sticking points going into these negotiations?

One of the big sticking points right now in the health care budget is whether lawmakers continue a 2 percent tax on medical providers that's set to expire at the end of the year. If they don't extend that tax, there's a lot less money available for health care, which means money may have to backfill from other spending areas.

Democrats and Republicans both want to spend more on education in the next biennium, but they're far apart on how much. More education spending is a top priority for the governor this year.

And there are a lot of policy issues lawmaker disagree on, some of which managed to get attached to these broader budget bills heading into negotiations. That includes two gun control proposals that Democrats included in a public safety budget bill.

4) So, with just two weeks to go, what are the prospects of finishing the session by the May 20 deadline?

A lot can happen at the Capitol in two weeks, so there's certainly time to get a deal yet. If they don't agree by May 20, the governor and lawmakers can keep negotiating and he can call them back into a special session to finalize a deal.

But remember: They must pass a new budget by July 1, the start of the next fiscal year, or state government will shut down.