ST. PAUL -- Gov. Tim Walz on Saturday, May 18, took to the stage to deliver a fiery speech in front of hundreds of teachers rallied at the Capitol and he said they'd have a voice at the bargaining table as talks about the state's spending plan wage on.
The comments were the most extensive the DFL governor has made publicly in days and they suggested the closed-door negotiations between legislative leaders in the nation's only divided Legislature had deadlocked.
Meanwhile, the Minnesota Senate on a 35-31 party-line vote approved a measure that would fund state government slightly above current levels if lawmakers can't agree to a budget deal before July 1. And while they weren't privy to the goings-on in the negotiation meetings in the "cone of silence," supporters said they felt they needed a strong backup plan as private talks continued with a little more than 48 hours left in the legislative session.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, and Walz entered another negotiation talk Saturday afternoon. They'd entered talks late Friday night and remained in talks until after midnight.
No one would say the phrase "special session" on Saturday, but the Legislature appeared to be moving toward one. Lawmakers have until Monday to finish their work and write a nearly $50 billion two-year budget. If they can't come to an agreement before June 30, the state government could shut down.
As the trio of legislative leaders takes up the budget talks, Walz said he's continued to make schools and teachers a priority.
“When Minnesotans spoke last year they told us very clearly, invest in our schools, invest in the teachers that make it happen and invest in our children," Walz said, pointing to the 2018 election, in which he won his office.
“What I don’t recall them saying is, 'Negotiate away our future to give tax breaks to millionaires,'" Walz continued, referring to a state program that pays insurance companies to reduce some of the risk associated with the individual insurance market, and in turn, brings down the cost of premiums.
With two days left in the legislative session, Walz encouraged the teachers to "roar" to make their voices heard to the Republican-led Senate.
The Education Minnesota union members yelled and cheered in response, their voices rippling into the Senate chamber.
Lawmakers in the Senate took up a proposal at the same time that would keep the lights on should legislative leaders come out of the legislative session without a deal. The spending plan would boost overall state spending by 4.9% compared to current levels.
“The political reality is what it is,” Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, said. “We should always prepare for the worst.”
Senate Republicans touted the measure as a backup plan to keep Minnesota open if divided government scuttled a deal. Despite the push to pass the bill, they said they were hopeful that leaders could still cut a deal.
But Democrats said the effort was an attempt to undermine budget negotiations and tamp down on state spending.
"You're throwing the towel in on the negotiations," Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said. “Get back to the bargaining table with the governor. There’s time to get this done."
“You know," Bakk continued, "maybe this was the plan all along: that we would spend no more money than we spent last time."