The 2021 legislative session came to a close Monday around 2:30 in the afternoon. While I had planned for a marathon session so we could finalize the budget, end the emergency powers, and deliver PPP/UI relief for Minnesotans, the House Majority Leader decided we were done with our work early.
It is shameful that after a year where Minnesotans made so many sacrifices that the legislature could not get our work done on time and complete the new two-year state budget. So what was the hold up? Democrats would not give up their calls to raise taxes (which was totally unnecessary with a $4.4 billion surplus) until the last minute. The Governor, Speaker of the House, and Senate Majority Leader did not even agree on budget targets until late Sunday night leaving no possibility of finishing on Monday.
There are many troubling aspects of the budget agreement that the three leaders decided on, which I will explain below. The legislature will reconvene sometime in June to finalize the budget so rest assured I will continue to update you with the latest news.
I am pleased to report that all businesses who received Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans and those who received unemployment benefits (UI) will get full relief in the new budget. This is a big win. Businesses used their PPP loans to keep their doors open and pay their employees when Gov. Walz forced them to shut down. Families who found themselves victim of the lockdown layoffs needed UI funds to make ends meet until they could find new work.
My biggest disappointment is that we could not get PPP/UI relief done before we adjourned. Monday was also Tax Day. We should have passed a standalone bill on May 17th to give businesses and families the reassurance they deserved before they filed their taxes.
There are so many things I would have negotiated into the final budget deal – lifting the school mask mandate and banning vaccine passports, to name a couple – but the number one priority should have been ending the emergency powers. Cases are dropping, more are getting vaccinated, the mask mandate is over, and capacity restrictions will all end on May 28th. Where is the emergency?! Gov. Walz has been drunk on power for too long. It is clear he no longer needs them, so it is time to finally end the emergency powers.
When we reconvene in June, ending the emergency powers needs to be our number one priority. We must restore the separation of powers that has been sorely lacking in our state for over a year (but more on that below.)
I am struggling to see the science that shows that masks are no longer needed for the general population, but they are necessary in the classroom. Political science has determined that our children still need to wear a mask at school. This is totally absurd. All along the science and data have shown that it is safe for kids to be in the classroom without a mask.
Iowa followed the science and just passed a law to give families, not the government, the choice in masking their children in school. Minnesota needs to act quickly and do the same.
Perhaps the most egregious aspect of the budget deal struck by the three leaders was this little provision: “Any policy and finance provisions included in a final omnibus finance bills must be agreed upon by the Governor, Speaker of the House, and the Senate Majority Leader.”
This is outrageous and threatens our separation of powers! Gov. Walz has no right to veto legislation before it is even passed by both chambers. It is remarkable that our legislative leaders would agree to see the executive branch as an equal in budget negotiations. It is the legislature’s role to appropriate funds, not the Governor’s.
The Speaker and Senate Majority Leader even agreed to hand over half a billion dollars to Gov. Walz to spend on whatever pet projects he wants. Summer school funding will come from that figure, so now our leaders have also given the legislature no voice in ensuring that our kids are sitting in their classrooms without wearing a mask as they catch up from a year of distance learning.
We need to end the one-man rule once and for all. Handing over hundreds of millions of dollars to the Governor doesn’t do that. There will be a lot of work to do during special session. We will need to not only finish the budget, but also end the emergency powers and restore the balance of power in St. Paul