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Legislature passes $48 billion budget, ends special session

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Representatives gather on the floor of the Minnesota House in the state Capitol in St. Paul on Friday for a special session to finish work on the state's $48 billion two-year budget. (Steve Karnowski | AP)

Minnesota lawmakers worked through the night and finished their special session shortly before 7 Saturday morning.

In series of starts and stops that began Friday morning, the House and Senate passed the remaining pieces of a $48 billion, two-year state budget.

The special session was needed because legislators passed only one budget bill before the regular session ended at midnight Monday. DFL Gov. Tim Walz and House and Senate leaders then put together an agreement for a one-day special session to act on the remaining bills.

DFL House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler of Golden Valley was pleased with the results.

"I think it's a sign that divided government can work, although it's not a huge win for the people of Minnesota. There are so many things left on the table to do in the future, and we look forward to coming back and fighting for those issues as  hard as we can in the years to come."

Republican House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt complained about the closed-door negotiations that led to the special session. He said the process was severely flawed and called the entire 2019 session a failure.

Walz was looking beyond the process at the product the negotiations produced.

“This budget will improve the lives of Minnesotans in every corner of the state and I look forward to signing it into law in the coming days,” Walz said. “We set out to make investments in education, health care, and community prosperity and that’s exactly what we achieved. Minnesota is showing the rest of the nation that Republicans and Democrats can still find compromise and work together to get things done.”

Among the bills passed during the night:

  • An education bill that increases per-pupil funding in public schools by 2 percent each year of the upcoming biennium.

  • A tax bill that cuts the income tax rate in the second bracket, extends the medical provider tax at 1.8 percent and aligns state tax law with the federal tax code to make filing easier.

  • A massive health and human services spending measure that funds nursing homes, child care and other health programs.

  • A transportation funding bill that does not raise the per gallon gas tax by 20 cents as Walz had proposed

  • A state government funding bill that authorizes spending $6.6 million in federal funds to increase election security.

  • A public safety funding bill that includes money for dozens of new corrections officers.

  • A jobs bill that makes wage theft a crime.

As the special session got underway Friday, Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka of Nisswa raised concerns about the agreement potentially falling apart. He warned his fellow lawmakers against trying to amend bills.

“Look, we’ve had those fights. We’ve got to get this stuff done for the good of Minnesota, which means some of our individual passions must wait for another year.”

House Republicans initially threatened to slow down the special session. But they ultimately provided the votes needed to waive the rules and take up bills immediately.

As the House and Senate debated the bills, there was praise and complaints from both sides of the aisle about provisions included and left out of the final versions. During Senate debate of the public safety bill, Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, once again criticized Republicans for not approving two gun-control measures this session.

“Rest assured that the majority of this body will not escape accountability for their inaction. One way or another, they will be held accountable.”

The education bill increases the funding formula for public schools and helps cover special education costs.

The transportation bill includes more than $55 million and increases several fees to replace the vehicle licensing system known as MNLARS. Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, said the faulty system has been a burden.

“It’s too bad we didn’t do it a lot sooner. We should have pulled the plug more than a year ago when we realized how poorly it was operating.”

The long-awaited health and human services bill was made public Friday evening. A key provision in the massive bill creates a blue-ribbon panel to squeeze out $100 million in future savings from the Department of Human Services.

Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, the chair of the health and human services finance committee, said the bill delivers on Senate priorities.

“We’re protecting nursing homes, the needs of the disabled, promoting mental health and transforming the pharmaceutical supply chain.

There was a prolonged debate over an emergency insulin provision that was left out of the final HHS bill. But attempts in both the House and Senate to put it back in fell short.

During the House debate of the agriculture bill, Republican Rep. Jeremy Munson, R-Lake Crystal, objected to its $40 million allocation for rural broadband expansion.

“This is a gravy train of money for people. They’re taking limited dollars. We should be using money to fight the opioid crisis with cash. We should be fixing our roads. Instead, we’re dumping money, we’re trenching it into the ground on decades-old technology when satellite and wireless and fixed wireless is already available.”

Legislators will return Feb. 11 for the start of the 2020 legislative session.