Budget talks involving Gov. Tim Walz and legislative leaders ended early Thursday night, and Senate Republicans began taking steps to avoid a state government shutdown, which would happen on July 1 if there is no new two-year state budget in place.
It was hard to get a good read on what’s really happening because the players in the high-level budget negotiations aren't sharing what is happening in their closed door negotiating sessions.
The most Walz and lawmakers will sometimes provide is an update that’s really not much of one.
When reporters asked Walz about the talks Thursday afternoon he said he was “ready to get it done. I got a haircut for the occasion, so this is it. We’re going to go."
"How close are you governor?" asked a reporter.
"We’ll see,” Walz replied.
Billions of taxpayer dollars are at stake in the talks. They’ll determine how much money will flow to school classrooms, whether anyone pays more in taxes or gets a tax break, who will foot the bill for combating the opioid addiction crisis and whether businesses will have to give employees paid time off to bond with a new baby.
Some of these issues might already have been decided. But for the last few days at least, no one closest to the situation will say that.
It’s a world away from the pledges early on by a new batch of power brokers, including Walz and DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman, to avoid a rush job at the end that results in all the big decisions being made in private.
“I’m trying to change the culture," Hortman said as she left her office Thursday night. "I can’t do it single-handedly and I can’t do it overnight. I would say that we’re working and we’re working in good-faith to get a resolution. We’re still working. We’ll work 24/7 to get this deal done.”
Republican Senate leaders said they too were still hopeful. But that was hard to square with a step they took with a potential government shutdown in mind. On short notice, they fast-tracked a bill that would pay for state agencies and programs at existing levels if a new budget isn’t in place by July 1.
“We are at somewhat at an impasse. This is a protection policy,” said Senate Finance Committee Chair Julie Rosen about the legislation that could hit the floor for a vote as soon as Friday.
Debate in her committee got slightly heated as Democrats accused Republicans of throwing in the towel on budget negotiations. Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, said the measure was premature.
“It’s surrendering before we should surrender. I think we should keep, I don’t know if butting heads is the right term, but keep meeting together and arguing with each other and fighting for what we believe and trying to come up with a conclusion. Because I think in the end we can do that.”
Rosen pushed back.
“You keep calling it a surrender. There is nothing in this that I believe is a surrender," she said. "Because I have great faith that the negotiations will continue and the work of the conference committees will continue. I view this as an insurance policy.”
There is no indication that the House will get on board with a lights-on government funding proposal nor that Walz would sign it. At least not yet.
If and when the leaders reach a budget agreement, it will be up to several joint committees to write it into bill form. With each passing hour, it will get tougher to turn around a complete budget by a midnight Monday adjournment deadline. And the prospect of a special session increases.