There's only one week left in Minnesota's 2022 legislative session, and the divided Capitol appears far from agreement on tax cuts, a funding boost for classrooms and how to address rising violent crime in the state.
While legislators have already struck a multibillion-dollar deal to replenish an unemployment insurance fund and send checks to frontline workers, roughly $6 billion of the state's nearly $9.3 billion projected surplus remains unspent. Recent tax collections showed the state continues to pull in hundreds of millions of dollars more than forecasted.
"There are plenty of resources to get money back into the hands of people, especially working families and child care right now, reduce the cost of early childhood education, be able to lower some middle class tax cuts permanently," said DFL Gov. Tim Walz. "That little extra just makes it a win, win, win. We can do all of those things."
Unlike past years, Walz has said he will not call lawmakers back for a special session if they don't finish their work on time, putting more pressure on top leadership to strike a deal in the next few days.
Lawmakers set the state's two-year budget last session and there are no requirements for them to do anything this year, but Republicans remain steadfast in pushing for permanent tax cuts to give some of the surplus back to Minnesotans. Democrats have favored smaller one-time tax rebates and credits.
"While we're open to finding common ground in public safety and education, maybe broadband and some other areas, we also remain focused on putting money back in the pockets of Minnesotans," said Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona.
The governor and top legislative leadership shuttled in and out of meetings all last week, tight-lipped about what they were discussing behind closed doors. Most of the public discussion took place in joint committee meetings between the House and Senate, where the two parties aired the differences in their plans.
Those divides are starkest on education, where Democrats in control of the House are proposing to spend more than $3 billion over three years to hire thousands of mental health workers, expand pre-kindergarten offerings and fund state and federally mandated programs that schools have long struggled to budget.
"There's all sorts of stresses and strains that students experience that need our response, and the good news is we have the resources. Historically we've argued that Minnesota didn't have the resources," said Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, the chair of the House's education finance committee. "It certainly is not true now. We have the resources they need across the state."
Senate Republicans' education spending focuses on $30 million for a literacy initiative and $700,000 for the state to hire reading coaches. During a hearing last week, Senate education chair Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, was visibly frustrated at the idea of pumping more money into programs while state reading scores plummeted.
"What problems has the state solved for these kids, what problems has the state solved for the teachers?" said Chamberlain. "We continue to promise all of these solutions and we'll pour on programs and pour in money and pour on mandates and policy, to what end?"
On crime, the Republican Senate wants to get tougher on sentencing carjackers and repeat offenders, while spending on grants to help recruit more police officers. House Democrats are pushing a proposal heavy on grants to community nonprofits and officer outreach in high-crime areas and want to focus on recruiting a more diverse police force.
Joint conversations between the House and Senate last week did little to show a path toward agreement on public safety, but both sides put on an optimistic face. "We came in as a lamb, and we're going out as a lion, but nevertheless, I think we'll have a good discussion," said Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, the chair of the Senate's judiciary committee.
In the end, legislators could simply run out of time to find agreement on some of the session's thorniest issues, meaning many of them will simply fall away. Lawmakers are motivated to wrap up their work quickly this year and hit the campaign trail. The governor's office and all 201 seats in the Legislature are on the ballot in the fall.
"I do hope the week that we have will give us enough time to really dig into these things," said Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, who chairs the House's public safety committee. "I'm a little worried about that. Time isn't always our best friend."