ST. PAUL — Minnesota lawmakers this week drew their final battle lines before entering into two weeks of budget debates.
On one side of the Capitol rotunda, Senate Republicans said they wanted the governor to drop his emergency powers and give them a say in how $2.6 billion in federal relief funds would be spent or they'd push a "lights-on" budget. On the other, House Democrats pressed for another round of police accountability legislation following the deaths of two Black men at the hands of police.
Ahead of the May 17 end of the legislative session, legislators in the divided Capitol will have to strike a deal or risk a state government shutdown.
Also this week, what had been a critical, albeit not flashy, responsibility set to come before lawmakers — redistricting — appeared to move toward more cordial conversations this week as the U.S. Census Bureau announced that Minnesota would keep its eight U.S. House seats.
Here's a look at what's driving the action at the Capitol as lawmakers enter the last two weeks of the 2021 legislative session.
Lawmakers enter final battles over a budget
Legislative leaders this week set their terms for passing a budget and leaving St. Paul. And they promised to fuel some political dust-ups at the Capitol.
With about a $1 billion split between budgets passed through the GOP-led Senate and DFL-controlled House, lawmakers started ironing out differences between the proposals in conference committees. But not before legislative leaders and the governor could lay down their top concerns.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, along with fellow DFL lawmakers and Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday, April 29, said policing law changes should be first priority for lawmakers as they take up budget bills. And she pressed Senate Republicans to hold open hearings to vet the proposals.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, meanwhile, said the policing law changes passed in 2020 needed time to take effect and he didn't commit to passing additional reforms. And he said Senate Republicans would ask Walz to end the state's peacetime emergency, and his emergency powers, as a condition of taking up other DFL budget priorities.
Over the next two weeks, the committees will go in and out of public meetings to reach compromises on how much to spend on top state priorities like schools, health care, tax relief, agriculture and worker supports. And, inevitably, fights will break out over how the state could offer tax relief, raise taxes, draw down all of the state's projected $1.6 billion surpluses and manage more than $2 billion coming from the federal government.
Hortman said she hoped each conference committee could hold open meetings and manage its own determinations on what makes it to the final budget. Legislative leaders are set to hand down budget targets to each committee that constrain what they can include in their part of the plan.
And if committee leaders reach an impasse, Hortman said legislative leaders and the governor would have to step in to strike a deal.
MORE ON BUDGET NEGOTIATIONS: Tax relief, proposed hikes at the fore as Minnesota legislators start to hammer out tax bill
Minnesota clinches all eight congressional districts
After months of delays due to the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Census Bureau finally on Monday, April 26 released its updated state population counts and assigned congressional districts to states, which will be in place for the next 10 years.
Experts and lawmakers had braced themselves for Minnesota to lose one of its eight congressional districts for months, thanks to stagnating population growth compared to other states.
But in a twist, Minnesota barely clinched its eighth district: By a razor-thin margin, Minnesota beat out New York state for the 435th district in the nation. According to the Census Bureau, had New York counted just 89 more people, it would have won the final district.
The news of maintaining all eight districts in Minnesota radically changes the tone about redrawing the state’s district lines, a job designated for state legislatures. With majority power split between Democrats and Republicans in St. Paul, the battle over map-drawing was expected to be politically fraught, or even passed on to the state’s courts. The courts could still take over the redrawing.
But with the state set to keep its seats, University of Minnesota at Morris assistant professor Tim Lindberg told Forum News Service that the map-making process could stay cordial. Lawmakers are now more likely to maintain a map very close to what’s in place now, rather than reinvent the wheel, he said.
With the state population so concentrated in the seven-county metro, Lindberg said metro-area congressional districts will stay geographically teeny, and the state’s three largest districts representing rural Minnesota — Districts 1, 7 and 8 — will remain large. Already, he said the state’s current map is logistically “stretched to its limits” in terms of urban-rural divide.
State Demographer Susan Brower on Monday celebrated the news, saying that had Minnesota lost its eighth seat, lawmakers would have had to handle “a complex realignment or redistricting of the state’s political map.”
"The impact in Greater Minnesota where the districts are already very large would have been especially difficult,” she said.
As of April 1, 2020, the Census estimates Minnesota's population to be 5,706,494, up 7.6% from 2010. With eight districts, there will be approximately 714,000 Minnesotans per U.S. House member, lower than the national rate of approximately 761,000 Americans per House member.