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Minnesota governor, legislative leaders set deadlines to finish nearly $50 billion budget

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, left, Gov. Tim Walz, center, and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, right, introduce new deadlines for finance bills at the Capitol on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019.1 / 3
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, left, House Speaker Melissa Hortman, center, and Gov. Tim Walz, right, introduce new deadlines for finance bills at the Capitol on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019.2 / 3
House Speaker Melissa Hortman, left, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, center, and Gov. Tim Walz, right, introduce new deadlines for finance bills at the Capitol on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019.3 / 3

ST. PAUL -- The leaders of Minnesota's divided Legislature and Gov. Tim Walz on Monday, Feb. 11, set public deadlines for writing a nearly $47 billion spending plan.

At a news conference at the Capitol, Walz, House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa pledged to hit the spending targets and said making the dates public would let Minnesotans hold them accountable to those deadlines.

The agreement comes after years of rocky budget negotiations, some of which spurred state government shutdowns and late-night budget-writing mistakes. And it'll be the first time since 2011 that a new governor will weigh in on the budget debates.

Lawmakers will decide how to use taxpayer dollars to fund Minnesota schools, health care programs, courts and more.

In the next several months, it will be up to legislative leaders and the governor to abide by the agreement and compromise on a two-year spending plan. The trio added a piece that would allow them some flexibility to block proposals if they contain policy provisions to which they can't agree.

In recent years, the budget-writing resulted in “a game of high stakes poker at the end of session," Hortman said. And aiming to avoid that and to make the process more transparent, the legislative leaders agreed to set the dates and stick to them.

“It’s time to do things a little bit differently and it’s time for us to have some benchmarks that we need to meet prior to the May 20 adjournment,” Hortman said. "We fully expect you will hold us accountable."

In years past, leaders have set deadlines for coming to agreements about the spending targets that committees should aim to meet. But as part of this proposal, Gazelka, Hortman and Walz set those deadlines along with three more dates for approving spending bills at the end of the legislative session.

“We want the process to work and we want Minnesotans to engage,” Gazelka said. “The reason we came out in public is to add that extra pressure ... Setting that out there has risks, but we think it’s to the benefit of Minnesota to do it.”

Writing a budget within the confines of the legislative session is a "low bar" for lawmakers and the governor to meet as it is part of their job descriptions, Walz said. But in doing so, Walz said lawmakers could set a new precedent.

“Our hope is that this becomes the norm and this is the expectation, but it hasn’t been for a long time,” Walz said. “So it’s a start.”

The deadlines

- March 15: Deadline for committees to advance a bill in its house of origin. Major appropriation bills are exempt.

- March 29: Deadline for committees to advance bill or companions of bills that met their first deadline in the other chamber. Major appropriation bills are exempt.

- April 12: Deadline for committees to advance major appropriation and finance bills.

- May 1: Deadline for both chambers to pass major finance bills off the floor and for leaders to set conference committees.

- May 6: Legislative leaders and the governor will set fiscal targets for major finance bills and release them to conference committee chairs.

- May 13: Conference committee chairs will provide reports to their houses of origin.

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