Legislators in the 2021 session had one major task before us: How do we recognize the sacrifices our families and businesses made over the past year in crafting a budget that helps all Minnesotans recover from the pandemic? I am sorry to say that the budget reached by the governor, speaker of the House, and Senate majority leader was neither completed on time nor did it go far enough to achieve that goal.
A major sticking point along the way was the Democrats’ continued desire to raise taxes. With an over $4.4 billion surplus, there were zero reasons to raise taxes on Minnesotans. Yet the Democrats continued their push to raise revenue until the 11th hour, making a budget deal impossible until it was too late to complete our work during the regular session.
There were a couple key policies that I felt must be addressed in the final two-year budget. First, and perhaps most importantly, the Legislature had to provide Paycheck Protection Program loan and Unemployment Insurance relief to the thousands of Minnesotans who used these funds to keep their businesses open or provide for their families. While this was included in the final deal, I am incredibly disappointed that the majorities in both chambers could not deliver PPP/UI relief before taxes were due on May 17.
We also needed to provide in-person summer learning so our kids could get back on track after a year of distance learning. Unfortunately, the budget that was decided on by the governor, speaker, and majority leader will give Gov. Tim Walz a half a billion dollars to spend as he wishes, which I seriously hope will include summer learning. It is shameful that the Legislature will once again be left out of the conversation surrounding what is best for our students. Kids need to be in the classroom full-time without wearing a mask. Now there is no way to ensure that happens with Gov. Walz solely in charge.
There was one troubling provision included in the final deal that said, “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.” That is not how our government is supposed to work. The governor has no right to veto a bill before it reaches his desk, or even passes out of both chambers. It is deeply troubling how little respect for the separation of powers the current administration exhibits.
Perhaps most egregiously, the budget the Senate majority leader negotiated with the Governor and Speaker did not end the emergency powers. Senate and House Republicans have been united in the need to end the governor’s emergency powers. With the mask mandate lifted, and capacity restrictions to end this month, it is clear the period of emergency is over. Ending the emergency powers should have been a part of any budget agreement.
This should have been the easiest budget to put together given our budget surplus. Yet here we are with session over, without a budget completed on time, and without helping Minnesota families and businesses who just faced the most difficult year of their lives.