Overview: Budget negotiations likely to be tense from the start

With just over two weeks left to negotiate a more than $40 billion budget for the next two years, there is a wide gulf between House and Senate Republicans and DFLers. Caucus leaders from both parties met behind closed doors with Governor Dayton this week to outline a framework to begin budget negotiations.

Before numbers can be agreed to, Governor Dayton has made it clear Republicans must remove the more than 600 policy provisions currently in the budget bills. These provisions run the gamut from halting any future light rail projects to limiting the department of agriculture from governing the use of harmful pesticides to eliminating 40-years’ worth of campaign finance reforms.

The leaders and Governor have announced they will begin working on the higher education and agriculture bills first, hoping to come to some agreements at least early on in the process. DFLers largely oppose the higher education bill – a $125 million bill that vastly underfunds both the MNstate and U of M systems. It also imposes tuition freezes without providing the funding to do so – meaning cuts are on the horizon for colleges and universities across the state.

DFLers held several press conferences this week highlighting small but hugely effective policy provisions. Earlier in the week a group of supporters met to denounce Republican attempts to shut down the 30-year-old Perpich Center for Arts Education in Golden Valley. Later in the week several senators were joined by the bipartisan Minnesota League of Women Voters to call out the elimination of campaign finance reforms. They went into depth about the “stunning and harmful changes” to our campaign finance laws and how it serves as an attack on clean elections.

In nearly every budget category, experts in the field are decrying the massive underfunding, the shifts to cover up questionable budgeting in future years, and in some cases the total destruction of popular programs like pre-k.

Republicans are saying in some cases they’d like to spend more, but much of the surplus money has either already been spent – like the $900 million given to health insurance companies and buying down premiums for Minnesotans purchasing their health insurance on the individual market. Republicans are choosing to put any leftover money into a tax bill, currently sitting at $1.13 billion, nearly half of which is going to the wealthy and big businesses. In fact, most Minnesotans will not see tax cuts but will be paying the price for unsustainable tax cuts for years to come.

All of this means the negotiations that will happen over the next few weeks will likely be animated and tense, to say the least. Session is constitutionally mandated to end on May 22.