Minnesota Democrats took a victory lap Wednesday, holding a celebratory event outside the Capitol with allies after a session where they secured policy goals they’ve chased for years.
At the campaign-style rally on the front plaza — complete with a marching band and a photography drone circling overhead — Gov. Tim Walz signed a piece of paper with his “One Minnesota” slogan meant to be representative of the new $72 billion budget.
The actual bills are still coming his way, although he has formally signed several. Walz and legislative Democrats celebrated the new state budget and a raft of policy changes years in the making.
“There's gonna be some — and we heard them talk about it during this session — that ask ‘What's in it for me?’” Walz said before giving a rhetorical nod to dozens of DFL lawmakers and state agency commissioners assembled behind him. “This group said, `What's in it for Minnesota?’”
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Walz and DFL legislative leaders said the vast tax and spending plans would have broad reach — from the classroom to the environment to the highways.
“There are countless things in here that improve those lives,” Walz said.
He referenced a 1970s policy shift nicknamed the Minnesota Miracle to frame up what he said was to come.
“If this is the Minnesota Miracle 2.0, the difference between then and now is we're saying today, we're leaving no one behind,” he said.
Republicans lacked the votes to stop the DFL-crafted budget and laws that guarantee abortion access, tighten rules around guns, open up more avenues to voting and more. They say they’ll argue in the next election that Democrats went too far, and they predict voters will be upset with increases to the gas tax, local sales taxes and the amount of overall spending.
“I think that the partisanship of the Democrats really failed the state,” Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, said.
“I don't think the transformation is going to be one that benefits all Minnesotans. You see government growth by 40 percent. You see a lot of special interests that were catered to this session. That's not Minnesota, that doesn't represent Minnesota. It's the people, it's the communities that we need to be investing in. And we completely missed the mark on that this year.”
House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said that Democrats tried to work with Republicans and were able to pick up GOP backing on some bills.
“We tried to take some of their amendments. When we did, they withdrew their amendments. So I think at a certain point, the Republicans decided that the talking point of this being a Democratic session where they didn't have input was more valuable to them than actually doing the work and providing the input,” Hortman said.
On other issues such as abortion access, voting rights and climate, Republicans and Democrats just couldn’t agree, she said. And Democrats contend that while GOP lawmakers don’t agree with their policy changes, most Minnesotans do.
Yet to be decided is the fate of a bill to provide more legal and financial protections to ride-share drivers for services such as Uber and Lyft. The independent contractors have marched for days outside of the governor’s office urging him to make it law. Some held signs at the rally asking Walz to sign it.
But Walz said he is still reviewing the bill and talking to stakeholders about it. He said he agreed with wanting to increase protection measures for drivers, but the transportation companies have threatened to reduce services in Minnesota or raise consumer fees if it becomes law.
Walz plans more signing ceremonies around bills for marijuana legalization and a paid family leave program.
The implementation around both will begin soon given the amount of work to be done.
A request for vendors published Wednesday offers the timeline for a marijuana program buildout after the Legislature approved a bill allowing adults at least 21 years old to possess and buy cannabis. The state is seeking a software vendor to manage applications and information around retail licenses.
The bid package says the project would start in July and license applications would start in May 2024. The estimated start of marijuana sales from dispensaries is listed as January 2025, although that could shift.
In the meantime, people will be allowed to grow their own marijuana plants at home within limits. They can keep up to two pounds and give away small amounts to people of legal age who they know.
The dependent care and medical leave program, which for qualifying life events will assure weeks of partially paid time off regardless of a person’s employer, will also require time to stand up. A government system will be stood up over the next couple of years, with benefits slated to begin in 2026.
Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said a sweep in November’s election allowed Democrats to enact an agenda that had been stymied before by divided government. She and others contrasted the Minnesota approach to conservative philosophies taking root elsewhere.
“If people have begun to lose faith in democracy, look to Minnesota, when we show up when we vote with our values, when we say that we are going to take care of each other, when everyone is in and no one is out. It matters. And these are the results that you can get,” she said, adding, “And I will tell you that that is what we see here in Minnesota. That is the difference that we have played the long game and we won.”