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Grumbling escalates as Minnesota legislative deadlines near

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, speaks about education legislation Tuesday, April 23, while House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, looks on. Mike Longaecker / Forum News Service1 / 2
Rep. Barb Haley, R-Red Wing, discussed education proposals Tuesday, April 23, after lawmakers reconvened at the Capitol. She was joined at the podium by Rep. Bob Gunther, R-Fairmont. Mike Longaecker / Forum News Service2 / 2

ST. PAUL — The pleasantries didn’t last long.

No sooner had Minnesota lawmakers reconvened from their Easter-Passover break than optimistic tones gave way to partisan bickering.

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt chastised Democrats Tuesday, April 23, for education finance legislation that he said included a practice the DFL opposed when it was in the minority. The Crown Republican likened the injection of policy into finance bills as “eating your asparagus with your dessert.”

“It’s funny how that perspective changes when you’re in the majority,” he said.

Grumbling wasn’t limited to Republicans.

The issue that appeared to get Democratic Gov. Tim Walz the most angry during a Tuesday news conference was a stalemate over the GOP-blocked appropriation of money the federal government gave all states for election computer security. He was highly critical of Republicans skipping a negotiation session planned before the holiday recess. They also did not attend a Tuesday afternoon meeting.

Still, as budget negotiations near, Walz declared: “I’m hopeful”

Meanwhile, much work remains at the Capitol.

What’s left? Virtually everything — or at least everything that comes with a price tag.

Lawmakers’ chief priority this session is to pass the biennial budget, one that must be accomplished among a Democratic governor, a Republican Senate and a DFL-controlled House.

The budget must be wrapped by May 20 when the Legislature adjourns.

Walz has proposed a $49.5 billion budget, while Senate Republicans proposed a $47.6 billion budget. The divided Legislature will spend the next several days producing competing versions of what the budget will comprise. Walz and the Democratic House majority largely agree on spending.

But time’s ticking and lawmakers are working through a new process aimed at staving off the brinkmanship that typically surrounds the final days of session.

“We’re doing a lot of work that used to be done at the end of session in the late night hours — we’re starting that (work) earlier,” said Liz Olson, a Duluth House member and Democratic majority whip.

Walz, along with Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortmann and Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka threw down a gauntlet that calls for all major finance bills to be passed in their respective chambers and sent to a conference committee by May 1 — one week from Wednesday.

Legislation then goes to conference committees tasked with reconciling the differences between bills from the House and the Senate. Walz, Hortman and Galzelka agreed to provide fiscal targets by May 6 for those conference committee leaders.

The compromise legislation created in conference committee must be sent back to the House and Senate by May 13.

Gazelka, of Nisswa, told reporters from where he plans to negotiate.

“I’m going to stand with the taxpayer,” he said.

Walz said he wants to compromise with Republicans who control the Senate, but was critical of them for not providing him with much information as budget negotiations near.

“I am open to negotiating almost everything except (using existing federal funds to improve election security) and the health of Minnesotans,” Walz told reporters Tuesday.

The governor, in his first state legislative session, said Senate leaders left for their 10-day holiday without providing him with spending information.

“I am more than willing to negotiate, but not with myself,” he said.

Forum News Service reporter Don Davis contributed to this report