MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — In a year when every state legislative seat and governor’s office is up for grabs in November elections, the state’s massive $7.7 billion surplus and how to spend are weighing on Minnesota’s legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Tim Walz ahead of the start of the legislative session on Monday.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Majority Leader Ryan Winkler return to lead the Democratic House as the GOP-controlled Senate sees a leadership shift in Republican Sen. Jeremy Miller of Winona, who took over from majority leader after Sen. Paul Gazelka, of East Gull Lake, announced his candidacy for governor. Republican and Democratic lawmakers have pointed to issues such as crime as a major problem this session, and it will likely continue as a campaign issue in the midterm elections this fall.
Here’s what to expect as lawmakers gather for the 2022 session on Monday:
Walz’s proposed supplemental budget includes a child and family-focused spending plan that’s more than $5 billion over three years and another proposal under an economic opportunity plan that would send checks for $175 $ or $350 to over 2.7 million Minnesota households.
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans want to return that money to Minnesotans in the form of permanent tax cuts. Miller on Wednesday highlighted his efforts to eliminate taxes on Social Security benefits and signaled a possible push for other tax breaks underway.
The governor also proposed a record $2.7 billion bond package for “local jobs and projects” – far larger than the $1.9 billion package passed in 2020, which is currently the largest in the history of the state. Bail bills require a three-fifths majority to pass, making the minority party in each chamber critical to the chances of any package reaching the governor’s office for signing.
There appears to be common ground, however, in paying off the state’s debt to the federal government for unemployment relief to prevent an unemployment insurance tax hike — a problem Republicans have called top priority and which Walz has included in his budget plan.
The caucuses and the governor unveiled several proposals focused on public safety earlier this week. Walz’s spending plan included hundreds of millions of dollars for local law enforcement, and House Democrats released a $100 million public safety package that earmarked nearly half to fund the hiring beaten cops and bolstering investigations.
While Senate Republicans have touted proposals like mandatory minimum sentences and limiting prosecutors’ discretion to ignore low-level crimes as top priorities, they’ve also emphasized recruiting and retaining more cops through officer bonuses, pension reforms and college scholarships.
House Democrats will return to efforts to legalize marijuana, which passed in a historic House vote last session with some Republican support. The proposal would legalize marijuana use for adults and overturn minor cannabis convictions in an effort to address inequities in marijuana arrests and convictions among white and black residents despite similar rates of use.
Walz, who earlier said he would sign the bill if it got to his desk, added funding for a new cannabis regulatory management office to his proposed budget, signaling stronger support. The bill is unlikely to make it to a floor vote or a Senate hearing, but the issue will continue to be campaigned for this fall.
Redistricting, or the process of drawing legislative maps each decade based on census data, could also play a role in the checks and balances in the future. Lawmakers have until February 15 to agree on a plan, but the divided legislature will likely result in the process being taken over by the courts.
Border changes could play a role in whether slim Democratic majorities in the GOP House and Senate could topple control in November.
The legislative session will run until the end of May and will again be different from the past due to pandemic-induced limitations. The Senate will hold hybrid hearings that lawmakers and the public can choose to attend virtually or in person, and House committee hearings will almost all be held virtually.