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Minnesota lawmakers optimistic heading into final weeks

Minnesota legislators face a long to-do list as they head toward May 23, the final day of the 2022 Session.

ST PAUL, Minn. — State Capitol Republicans and Democrats haven't given up yet on reaching accords on divisive issues before the session ends May 23. The fact they were able to broker a deal on frontline worker bonus pay and unemployment insurance has given then renewed hope they can resolve other sticking points.

It will be a matter of finding areas the DFL-controlled House and GOP-controlled Senate can agree on, that can also win a signature from Gov. Tim Walz.

"I think both sides want to do something on public safety. I think both sides want to do something on taxes. I think both sides want to support our workforce in Health and Human Services," House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, a Golden Valley Democrat, told KARE.

"I think there are plenty of big issues out there where we at least have the same agenda item, even if we don't have the same set of goals."

RELATED: Walz signs bill to reward frontline workers, replenish unemployment insurance

Minnesota's divided legislature has trouble striking deals in the absence of deadlines and constitutionally-imposed ultimatums. And such is the case this year, because there's no threat of a looming state shutdown.

Legislators passed a balanced two-year budget during the 2021 Session, so there aren't any legal consequences if they run out the clock this year. It would, however, create plenty of political liability if they were to leave with the state's record $9 billion budget surplus still intact.

"If we didn't have this massive budget surplus the discussions during this non-budget year would be very, very different than what's going on right now," Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, a Winona Republican, told KARE.

Republicans want to return a big chunk of the surplus to Minnesotans by enacting permanent income tax rate cuts.

"We feel that permanent, ongoing tax relief is the best way to do that, so instead of one payment, one time, and then it’s done. Republicans are focused on putting that pack in peoples pockets not one time, but ongoing, every single week, every single month, every single year."

Gov. Walz remains committed to the idea of rebate checks — $1,000 for joint filers, $500 for single filers — as a fiscally prudent way to return part of the surplus.  Rebates aren't currently part of the House or Senate tax bills.

"It's in mine!" Walz declared during a press conference Monday.

"Everything's got to come through my desk. So, yes, it's very much alive! If you want some of this other stuff. These checks and the difference they make, you can feel it with these frontline workers. I would argue that relief to all Minnesotans is necessary."

The surplus is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to the legislature's unfinished business. The House and Senate have been debating and passing bills on a wide variety of topics, including school funding, public safety, transportation, elections, childcare assistance and natural resources just to name a few.

But thus far there aren't bipartisan agreements in place that could meld those House and Senate bills together into a compromise version that could pass both chambers and get to the governor's desk.

"I am hopeful. We have shown today it’s possible to pull deals together where we agree and where we agree we should do as much as we can and leave the election year politics for later," Rep. Winkler said.

Still hanging is a potentially $1 billion public works construction bonding bill, something that is normally done in the even-numbered year. Typically, the legislature passes a budget in odd-numbered years, leaving bonding for the non-budget session.

"This is the first time I've been in the legislature on a non-budget year that we still don't have a bonding bill ready to go, and we're three weeks away from the end of session," Sen. Miller remarked.

The State Constitution limits regular sessions to 120 legislative days across a two-year period. A "legislative day" is a 24-hour period beginning at 7:00 a.m. State law dictates the session must end by the first Monday after the third Saturday of the month of May. 

At one point in history most lawmakers were farmers, so the goal was to get them back into their fields. Annual sessions were allowed but weren't required until 1973 after an amendment to the state constitution took effect.

The $9 billion surplus is actually a projected surplus, what the state's budget experts predict will be left over when the current two-year fiscal cycle ends June 30, 2023 based on economic forecasts.  That's the amount the state expects to have left in the coffers if there aren't any changes in spending or taxation levels.

If lawmakers cut tax rates, send out rebate checks or increase spending the size of the projected surplus will shrink.

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