MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Governor Tim Walz and legislative leaders are hoping to make a deal. They’re discussing topics including a gas tax hike, education, and health funding. It’s an effort to come together and avoid a chaotic finish to the session.
At about 3:30 p.m. today Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka emerged to say they are making progress. Sen. Gazelka, Gov. Walz and House Speaker Melissa Hortman all went back into negotiations at 4:30 p.m.
By the end of the night, they hoped to have actual target numbers for individual spending bills. Lawmakers did not set budget targets Monday. The past two budget years in 2017 and 2015 ended in nasty special sessions. and it seems the leaders are trying to avoid that this year.
“We are still very hopeful and we will be working hard through the day,” Hortman said.
Gazelka, who is the only leader left from the bitter budget battle of 2017, said the tone is positive.
“It is respectful, which I think is important,” he said.
But Gazelka also made it clear there is a fundamental divide between Senate Republicans and the DFL House– and governor– on many key issues.
“There are two different directions,” he said. “I wish we were on the same page, but we are not.”
The biggest difference is the governor wants to phase in a 20-cent per gallon gas tax. The tax would raise Minnesota’s gas tax from 28.6 cents to 48.6 cents, and raise $6.5 billion dollars over 10 years to improve state roads and bridges.
“The gas tax is not going to happen. We have made it very clear.” Gazelka said.
The unwillingness of Republicans to negotiate about the tax frustrates Governor Walz.
“They have to answer the question: How do the resources that you’re proposing, in no scenario they put out, does it keep pace with what Minnesota needs to do to keep a high-quality safe transportation system,” Walz said.
Talks will continue, but if no agreement is made by the end of the session on May 20, there is a risk of a state government shutdown on July 1.