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As budget details emerge, so do complaints

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State budget deal
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (center), joined by Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman, announces a state budget deal at the Capitol on Sunday.
Brian Bakst | MPR News

Updated 6:27 p.m. | Posted 3:45 p.m.

Gov. Tim Walz summoned lawmakers for a Friday start to a special session where they will vote on a new two-year state budget. As pieces of the plan have emerged, the decisions made by leaders in private have lawmakers from both parties, groups with a stake in the proposals and other members of the public fuming.  

There are always people who are disappointed with the final product, but this year, there are as many who are perplexed by how items fell away.

Tommy Johnson of the Minnesota Veterans of Foreign Wars can't understand how a justice measure supported by both prosecutors and public defenders got shelved. It would have provided a restorative justice pathway for more veterans whose troubles can be traced to their service.

"This bill, had it been passed by the Senate, would have saved the state of Minnesota $1,307,000, according to the fiscal note," Johnson said.

Paul Spies is part of a coalition seeking to diversify the ranks of Minnesota teachers. He said the $20 billion agreement for education spending won't do much for programs to get more teachers of color in classrooms.

"We started the session with hope," Spies told a committee during a hearing on the proposal. "Today, I'm here devastated and disillusioned."

Achievement gaps among white students and those of color will persist without dramatic action, Spies said.

"Crumbs won't feed starving children," he said. "And we have to do more."

Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, was also upset about the education result. One of his top goals for the year was millions of dollars in tax breaks for people and corporations who contribute to private school scholarships for students facing academic and financial adversity.

It was nixed during closed-door talks where DFL Gov. Walz, Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka cut the deal on matters large and small.

Chamberlain, who chairs the Senate Taxes Committee, said he pressed Walz to give it a chance.

"And they simply scowled," Chamberlain said. "So, they continue to deny those people and those children those opportunities simply because they're protecting, I'll be honest, the teachers' union."

Grand plans to alter how Minnesota derives and distributes its electricity were also scrapped. And, you guessed it, each side blamed the other.

"This energy section is an abomination, an absolute failure. And it isn't because of this body," said Sen. Dave Osmek, R-Mound, who chairs the Senate Energy Committee, adding that House Democrats were driving a "radical, environmental wish list."

Rep. Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, pointed the finger in the other direction for the lack of progress on conservation and a focus on renewable power sources.

"We know that the public is demanding this, but the Senate stood in the way of action on trying to move forward on clean energy."

Similar back-and-forths were occurring around the Capitol: on transportation where a large-scale package was set aside; on health care where a plan to cut the cost of insulin was in doubt despite broad legislative support; and on criminal justice where changes to probation languished.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said the parade of disappointment will only grow longer once people have a chance to read the bills. Bakk said he urged Walz in a private conversation to wait on a special session so lawmakers, lobbyists and the public can find out what survived and what didn't.

He sat through a Taxes Committee hearing where the bill wasn't even available to members in final form.

"I'm trying to play hide-and-seek from the lobbying community, actually," he said. "Because they're all trying to find me to find out if their thing is in. They're representing people that have bills introduced for a reason: It's important to somebody. There's been no one to go see if their provision is in or out. I just got a text from one of my members, saying, 'What about this provision?' Well, I don't know."