Daily Digest: One week to go, still no deal

Good morning, and welcome to the last full week of the legislative session. Here's the Digest.

1. Still no deal on the budget. Gov. Tim Walz and legislative leaders met briefly Sunday night, but emerged no closer to a deal. It’s possible Walz, DFL leaders, and Senate Republican Majority Leader Paul Gazelka could continue negotiations. Walz says that’s all predicated on Sen. Gazelka bringing forth a counteroffer, which did not happen Sunday. Just before 7 p.m., the Democrats and Republicans met with the Governor. The meeting lasted about an hour and a half. Two major budget sticking points concern Gov. Walz’s proposed 20 cent per gallon gas tax increase and extending the already in place 2 percent medical provider tax, which sets aside money for low-income Minnesotans for health care. Walz said he  made a budget offer last Wednesday, even proposing $400 million less in spending and revenue over the next two years than he originally proposed, but he says Republicans won’t meet them in the middle. The governor is confident a compromise will happen soon, but he says his patience is being tested. (WCCO TV)

2. Taxes aren't the only sticking point. The division between the two sides doesn't end with how much the state should tax and spend. Tucked inside the thousands of pages of proposed budget language are numerous policy proposals, including some contentious issues that split lawmakers along partisan lines. Sunday's meeting marked the first formal negotiation since early last week, when leaders failed to meet a self-imposed deadline for reaching agreement on top-line spending numbers. While they took a break from budget negotiations, Walz and leaders did convene in Albert Lea on Saturday for the Governor's Fishing Opener. Over the course of several hours on Fountain Lake, they reeled in a number of fish. A budget deal, however, remained elusive. (Star Tribune)

3. Spike in tax collections could bear on end of session. Minnesota tax collections soared well past expectations for April, according to a tally released Friday. The Department of Minnesota Management and Budget reported revenue that was $489 million above what had been projected to come in. The excess is 17 percent above expectations for the month. April is when most income tax payments are made, so this update is more pivotal than others. Minnesota didn’t conform to federal tax changes in 2018, so there were a lot of uncertainty about what would happen once filing season arrived and predictions Minnesotans would pay more. Revenue Commissioner Cynthia Bauerly cautioned against reading too much into the figures because it could relate to timing issues, taxpayer withholding decisions or economic factors at play. “It’s difficult and a little dangerous to attribute any source or cause for those monthly changes,” she said. Senate Taxes Committee Chairman Roger Chamberlain, R- Lino Lakes, said the report doesn’t change his view that Minnesota’s tax system is out of line with other states and the broader economy is at a fork in the road. He said he will hold firm against tax increases this session. “The labor shortage the way it is, we can ill afford to push burdensome tax increases and heavy regulatory costs on businesses and individuals,” Chamberlain said. (MPR News)

4. Debate over conversion therapy personal for Gazelka, daughter. Minnesota state Sen. Paul Gazelka, the Republican majority leader, faces a deeply personal and political dilemma as the Legislature weighs restrictions on so-called conversion therapy — the widely criticized practice of trying to turn gay people straight. A DFL proposal to ban the practice with Minnesota children failed last week on a party-line vote after an emotional Senate debate where lawmakers in both parties recounted anguished stories from their own lives. But with some GOP senators threatening to upend their own Health and Human Services budget if the conversion ban were attached, Gazelka led the Republican caucus in voting it down. Gazelka, a conservative Christian who has become a Capitol dealmaker, was silent during the middle-of-the-night debate, even as his emotions roiled underneath. “I cry over this issue,” he said, choking up during an interview in his office. One of his five children, Genna Gazelka, 30, came out as a lesbian as a teen. Genna, who now identifies as bi-gender and uses the pronoun “they,” is fiercely opposed to the practice of conversion therapy. In an interview prompted by the vote, Genna said the Gazelka family turned to a therapist who decried same-sex relations. “This is harassment, and it is tantamount to what could be said of torture or sexual torture,” Genna said of conversion therapy. (Star Tribune)

5. Holiday would honor Hmong veterans. Minnesota lawmakers are poised to create a new state holiday recognizing Hmong veterans who served in the Vietnam War. A proposal tucked into the House and Senate state government budget bills would designate May 14 each year as Hmong-Lao Veterans Memorial Day. It would honor those who fought in support of the U.S. in the Secret War in Laos, a covert CIA operation that supplied and supported Hmong citizens to act as soldiers in the conflict. For their contributions, the United States promised veteran status and citizenship. May 14, 1975 was the last day of an airlift evacuation of soldiers and their families from a covert headquarters in Laos to a refugee camp in Thailand. Tens of thousands of Hmong soldiers lost their lives in the Secret War. Freshman Rep. Tou Xiong, DFL-Maplewood, said he hopes schools would read a passage about Hmong history or read from the state statute in classrooms to observe the holiday. If the proposal passes, businesses would have a choice of whether to give employees the day off; the flags at the Capitol would be flown at half-mast for the holiday. (MPR News)

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