Lawmakers continue budget talks as session deadline looms

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz addresses a news conference Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019 in St. Paul, Minn. where he said a conference call with drug company executives has left him hopeful that the Legislature will pass a bill to address the opioid crisis that he can sign. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
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ST PAUL, Minn. (KARE) - Governor Tim Walz and legislative leaders met Sunday night to continue budget talks but were unable to strike a deal.

Lawmakers have until May 20 to pass a two-year budget for the period beginning July 1, 2019. If they miss that deadline, the governor would have to call a special session to avoid a partial state government shutdown.

Negotiations were put on hold earlier in the week but resumed Sunday at 7 p.m. in the Cabinet Room.

After less than two hours, Gov. Walz came out to tell the media that he and House Democrats did not receive a counter-offer. While the governor said it was possible he and legislative leaders could meet again that same night and that he would be on-call, 24/7, as of 11:30 Sunday night, it had not happened.

"I am frustrated because Minnesotans were pretty clear to me about those priorities they want to see but they also were specific, and this is over years of being out there listening to them, work together to make government function. I'm still hearing no. You heard it again that there are red lines; you're not hearing that from us. But I'm still hearing there are red lines on things we can't do," Gov. Walz told the press after Sunday's meeting.

The governor's press secretary said Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, snuck out a side door after the meeting, avoiding the press. KARE 11 reached out to his press secretary to get a comment and we are waiting to hear back.

Lawmakers are trying to come to an agreement on the state's two-year, nearly $50 billion budget but remain two billion dollars apart. So far, lawmakers have not passed any of the ten major finance bills.

Major sticking points include transportation, education and health care. The governor and House Democrats are calling for a 20 cent per gallon increase in gas tax, phased in over four years. The Republican-led Senate is opposed to it.

Last week, Sen. Gazelka said, "We've counted $12 billion in new taxes over four years. We feel that is way, way high as far as tax increases on Minnesotans."

There's also disagreement surrounding the Medical Provider Tax which is set to expire at the end of the year. Money goes to the Health Access Fund. It was created to supply money to the Health Access Fund, which helps pay the costs of health care for lower-income Minnesotans enrolled in the Minnesota Care health plan. It's a 2% tax on doctor and hospital visits that Gov. Walz wants extended but the Republican-led Senate does not.

Negotiations will continue this week. House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, told press after the meeting, "We're waiting for a Senate counter-offer. We can't negotiate until we have a willing participant on the other side and I think they're working on that."