Clock is ticking on budget negotiations

Every two years, the state legislature is required to prepare a budget for Minnesota to operate under for the following two-year cycle. Each time this exercise occurs, certain things must happen: The Governor first presents his budget proposal, usually in early February. Then, the majority parties in the House and Senate come up with their own budget plans, usually a few weeks after the Governor.

After legislative committees have had the chance to review the House and Senate budget plans, each body passes the bills and they enter conference committee – a roundtable of 10 lawmakers; five Representatives and five Senators that sit down and work out differences between the two bills.

Once conference committees have agreed on a compromise legislative budget proposal, the Governor sits down with leadership and negotiates his plan with theirs. By the end of the legislative session in May, the negotiations have been completed and the House and Senate approve the compromise budget package that has been agreed upon.

This system has served the state for decades, and while it admittedly causes political back-and-forth before the final budget is accomplished, it’s a reliable system that allows everyone’s voices to be heard during the budget discussion. It allows Minnesotans three avenues, through their Representatives, Senators and their Governor, to advocate for the values they believe in and have them heard.

This year, that entire process is being disregarded by the Republican majority in the House and Senate. With just three weeks left to complete a budget that erases the state’s $5 billion deficit and funds basic services such as education, health care and other priorities for the next two years, the legislative majority has yet to produce a complete, balanced budget. The budget bills they have passed are at least $1 billion short of solving the deficit and rely upon phony savings that non-partisan fiscal experts have confirmed will never materialize.

What’s more, of the nine conference committees that have been created to work out differences between the House and Senate bills, three haven’t yet begun meeting and the others haven’t agreed upon a single provision. These are negotiations between groups of the same political party. If they can’t come to an agreement, it’s difficult to think how they will be able to negotiate and compromise with the Governor in the next 20 days.

Governor Mark Dayton has asked the legislature to produce a balanced budget by next Friday, May 6, so he can begin negotiating in good faith to end this session on time. So far, the majority party has brushed off this request, suggesting the governor’s only choice is to cave to their position. That’s not how honest negotiations work, especially not when the state’s well-being is at stake.

My question is: Don’t the people of Minnesota get a say? By shutting out the governor and refusing to compromise with other ideas on the table, Republicans are ignoring the Minnesotans that have asked the Governor to uphold certain values and opinions they believe in. We have separate branches of government so we assure good representation for all the people of this state and, unfortunately, that system is being ignored this year.

Right now, my position on the budget solution aligns mostly with the governor’s, but I stand ready to compromise and work together to come to a final solution. I plan to be an active part of this process, but that simply cannot happen until a real legislative budget – one that is based on real numbers supported by non-partisan, fiscal evidence – is produced. Until that happens, we’re headed down two separate paths that do not lead toward an orderly conclusion by the May 23 deadline, or a responsible budget solution for our state.


Senator Tony Lourey
Tony Lourey represents District 11, which includes portions of Carlton, Kanabec, Pine and St. Louis counties in the northeastern part of the state.

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