ST. PAUL — State lawmakers are laying out a contingency plan should budget negotiations in the nation's only divided Legislature fall flat.
Members of the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday, May 16, on a party-line vote advanced a bill that would continue state funding at levels slightly above existing ones if legislative leaders and the governor can't strike a budget deal before Monday, May 20.
Closed-door negotiations continued Thursday between House and Senate leaders along with Gov. Tim Walz, but details of those talks remained private. With four days left to close out legislative business and to write a two-year budget, Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, said he wanted to have a stopgap measure in place to prevent a state government shutdown.
“What we’re talking about here is simply prudence and being responsible, being prepared,” Chamberlain said. “The alternative is to say, 'It’s okay to shut down.' I don’t think it’s okay to shut down.”
Republicans pointed to a 2017 state Supreme Court decision that determined the courts can't approve funding that hasn't been approved by the Legislature and said they should greenlight a "Plan B" to keep state government running should political games stall a spending agreement.
Democrats on the committee said they worried that passing the budget extension would send a message to the people of Minnesota that lawmakers don't have the drive to get their work done as required by the state Constitution. And they said the move by Republicans with days remaining in the legislative session was politically motivated.
“This strikes me as not even a Hail Mary, but throwing our hands up in the air and saying, ‘Who knows?’” Sen. Richard Cohen, D-St. Paul, said. "This suggests the Legislature is incapable of doing its job."
Committee Chairwoman Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, has been in various closed-door negotiations with legislative leaders and said the extended funding is the right path forward.
“We are somewhat at an impasse," Rosen said. "This is a protection policy that is very transparent, very accountable and it is the right thing to do."
Members of the panel voted 8-5 to advance the proposal, sending it to the Senate floor for consideration. The measure could come up for a vote as early as Friday.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Walz said they'd likely continue meeting in coming days to reach a deal on state spending targets. Asked whether they were nearing a deal, Walz said, "We'll see."
Gazelka, in a separate appearance walking into negotiations, said, "I hope so."
The leaders originally wanted to have the targets set Monday, May 6. When that deadline came and went without a deal, they said Wednesday, May 15, by noon would be the latest they'd have to reach a deal while still finishing the legislative session on time.
While they've worked 10-12 hours each day behind closed doors this week, they've not yet announced a compromise.