Politics and Government

Plenty of money, but how much will to get a surplus deal?

Melissa Hortman and Jeremy Miller
House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park and Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona after a negotiating session with Gov. Tim Walz at the Capitol last month.
Brian Bakst | MPR News File

Updated: 11:40 a.m.

It’s “omnibus” bill season in the Minnesota Legislature — the Capitol term for sprawling budget and policy bills containing numerous changes to law or spending.

Maybe to no one’s surprise, the mega-plans taking shape in the Republican-led Senate and DFL-led House are vastly different. It’s a foreboding sign as the Legislature decides what to do with a projected $9.25 billion surplus, some or much of which could be left uncommitted if lawmakers can’t reach a compromise.

Normally in even-year sessions, lawmakers buff around the edges of a budget passed the year before — perhaps to fill in a shortfall or tack on some extra money because of a surplus.

But there’s so much money this time that the list of new or expanded programs under consideration is quite long. So are tax cuts of all varieties.

In an ideal world, every proposal would get its own up-or-down vote. But for reasons both logistical and political, they get rolled into bigger packages. Popular measures ride along with those that are more controversial, which can make them harder to vote against.

House and Senate leaders both say they plan to have several topic-focused omnibus bills rather than one or two giant supplemental budget bills as has happened in the past. 

Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, explained why.

“It's too hard for the public to follow along with that. Frankly, it's too hard for legislators to follow that process,” Miller said. “So I've made a commitment to legislators and, frankly, the people of Minnesota that we are not going to do one large supplemental budget bill.”

The bills began trickling out last week and more will be released this week.

Some things of note so far:

  • The Senate’s public safety bill contains money for law enforcement recruitment bonuses and retention efforts. It would pay for more body cameras in communities that haven’t implemented them yet. There’s money to cover expected prison costs for tougher sentences around stiffer penalties for gun, theft or carjacking crimes. It would add $200 million to the current state budget.

  • A Senate higher education budget would put $20 million more into college programs. That’s $100 million less than what Gov. Tim Walz proposed.

  •  A Senate state government finance bill imposes new auditing and fraud reporting requirements around grants to nonprofits. It also has scattered changes to election administration, including a requirement that local officials livestream their processing of absentee ballots. 

  • A Senate environment and natural resources bill initially required the DNR commissioner to set new rules that would lower the daily possession limit for walleye to four. It’s six now. The language was removed Monday after Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee Chair Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said he wasn't convinced there was a solid scientific reason behind the change. He said the DNR might be able to use existing power to shift the limits if the agency deems it important.

  • A Senate housing bill would undo voter-approved rent control ordinances in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

  • A House civil law policy bill prohibits location tracking or other web-browsing monitoring on school-issued devices except under narrow circumstances, such as under a warrant or an imminent threat to life or safety.

House DFLers have indicated they’ll push to add a lot of money to prekindergarten programs, making more 4-year-olds eligible going forward. And K-12 funding will also be a centerpiece, with more than $1.1 billion in new money going to that area.

Another House committee advanced a bill last week to put $145 million more into programs to combat homelessness.

Both chambers intend to stake out their tax positions with bills they’ll unveil Monday.

Senate Republicans have already said they’ll push to chop income taxes and make all Social Security income free from taxation. Combined, those would mean billions of dollars a year in foregone tax collections.

Senate Leader Miller said the record surplus shows the state is taking in more than it needs. He said the bill will be sped through for a vote this week before lawmakers break for the Easter/Passover recess.

Miller said it would mean “an income tax reduction for all working Minnesotans so they have more money in their pockets every single paycheck, month after month, week after week, year after year. We feel that permanent, ongoing tax relief is the best way to get money back in the pockets of Minnesotans.”

DFLers, including Walz, have suggested tax cuts of that size aren’t wise or sustainable. They say they’ll have more targeted tax cuts to people and families who haven’t benefited from a booming economy.

House Taxes Committee Chair Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, said his bill would gear help “to those who are going to need the help the most.” He said that could take several forms, which will become apparent as his bill and others get rolled out.

“We're going to focus on a bill that is going to provide significant relief to our families, to our workers, to our senior citizens by lowering child care costs, getting folks out from the avalanche of student debt and with huge property tax cuts,” he said. “That's how we're going to do that.”

The main giveback feature for Walz is one-time checks of up to $1,000 per household, or $500 for individuals. 

Both chambers will pass their own budget bills, with that process likely to play out over the next few weeks. Then caucus leaders and committee chairs will start figuring out if they can reach common ground.

Very little has to pass this year. So if there's a standoff, much of that surplus could remain parked until lawmakers return for the 2023 session.

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