ST. PAUL — Minnesota lawmakers again sparred this week over a plan to fund security in Minneapolis ahead of a high-profile trial of an ex-Minneapolis police officer.
And with 10 days until jury selection was set to begin, legislative leaders planned to spend the weekend negotiating over a deal.
With hundreds of millions of dollars of damage caused by civil unrest following the death of George Floyd, public safety officials urged funding to set in place a proactive security plan. Meanwhile, lawmakers stood at odds over using state money for unrest in the Twin Cities and, more broadly, whether Minnesota disaster funds should cover manmade catastrophes.
Gov. Tim Walz on Monday proposed putting $150 million toward rebuilding businesses in Minneapolis and St. Paul following the arson fires and rioting as part of his bonding bill. And lawmakers and the governor dug in for broader spending debates as budget officials on Friday announced that a projected $1.3 billion budget hole turned into a $1.6 billion surplus.
Here's a look at what's been going on at the Capitol this week and what's on the horizon.
Trial security funding deal still elusive, negotiations ongoing
Lawmakers remained at odds this week about how to fund security in the Twin Cities during a high-profile murder trial.
Jury selection in the trial of Derek Chauvin, an ex-Minneapolis police officer charged with second-degree murder in Floyd's death, is set to start March 8. And state and local public safety groups urged legislators to set up a state fund ahead of the trial but lawmakers in the divided Statehouse have so far been unable to strike a deal.
After the House of Representatives came up short of passing a $35 million funding plan backed by the governor, a Senate committee on Thursday, Feb. 25, passed a $15 million counter-proposal that would include law enforcement oversight and a prohibition blocking catastrophes related to "civil disorder" from being eligible for the funds.
The plan was slated to move to the Senate floor despite objections from Democrats over the potential delay in getting reimbursements to cities and in implementing new requirements for police officers around the use of deadly force.
In the House, a committee on Wednesday considered blocking damage stemming from civil unrest from state disaster aid. And the proposal would apply retroactively, which means it could claw back a $12 million allocation Walz made to Hennepin County to help with arson fire damages following unrest last summer.
The panel didn't take a vote on the proposal but emergency management experts raised concerns about unraveling instances of civil unrest or disorder from what falls under the category of a disaster.
“I understand the politics of this situation but it really impacts the entire state,” Dewey Johnson, president of the Association of Minnesota Emergency Managers and St. Louis County emergency manager, said Wednesday, noting two counties in his region had civil unrest events related to the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline ongoing that morning. “This is a statewide issue, not just a metro issue and we are dealing with it today.”
Sunnier budget outlook reignites budget debates
State budget officials on Friday afternoon, Feb. 26, announced a projected gap had been filled, and in its place the state anticipated a $1.6 billion surplus, resetting the goalposts on what lawmakers might be able to fund in a two-year spending plan.
As the COVID-19 pandemic bore down on Minnesota last year and state leaders temporarily closed down various business sectors in response, budget officials projected that money coming into state coffers would dip below previously expected levels. And legislators, along with the governor, prepared to tap into rainy day funds and reduce state spending in the face of a projected $1.3 billion deficit.
But on Friday, state budget officials said the budget hole had been filled. And federal stimulus funds along with higher-than-expected consumer spending helped replace it with a $1.6 billion surplus.
Immediately following the announcement, business leaders and Republican lawmakers said the news signaled that the state's economy was ready to rebound and the Legislature should avoid imposing new taxes or regulations that could stand in the way.
Walz earlier this year put forward a $52.4 billion budget proposal complete with a tax hike on the state's top wage earners and corporations. Democrats along with labor unions, faith groups, and others have supported a proposal and said it should be incorporated into a final budget plan no matter what Friday's estimates show.
- Walz proposes $52.4 billion budget plan, tax hike for highest earners
- Gov. Tim Walz's tax proposal draws blowback; lawmakers feud over who pays for riot repairs
With the new figures at hand, Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature will craft budget priorities before they work to craft a compromise plan. Ultimately, the DFL-led House, GOP-led Senate and Walz will have to agree if a plan is to be signed into law.
Walz bonding plan includes $150 million for Twin Cities rebuilding
Walz on Monday put up a $518 million proposal for a local jobs and projects bill, commonly known at the Capitol as a bonding bill. As part of the proposal, the governor proposed borrowing $150 million to help Twin Cities businesses rebuild after they were damaged by looting and arson fire over the summer following Floyd's death.
Lawmakers in 2020 approved a $1.9 billion bonding bill, the biggest in the state's history. And Walz said the state still has significant needs in infrastructure, state buildings and other areas. He said lawmakers should take advantage of historically low interest rates for borrowing the funds that could boost new jobs coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rep. Fue Lee, D-Minneapolis, leads the House Capital Investment Committee and said he supported the push to pass a bonding bill this year, while Sen. Tom Bakk, I-Cook, said lawmakers should prioritize COVID-19 response and passing a two-year budget. Bakk chairs the Senate Capital Investment Committee.