ST. PAUL — More than one week after lawmakers adjourned their regular working session, legislators are negotiating the state's $52 billion budget behind closed doors.
Spokespeople for the Democratically controlled House of Representatives and GOP-led Senate on Tuesday, May 25, said working groups began meeting in the days after the Minnesota Legislature closed out the 2021 legislative session. But specifics were scarce and only one hearing was broadcast publicly.
Legislative leaders and the governor a week earlier announced a budget framework in the final hours of the Legislature's working period. And they acknowledged lawmakers would have to continue into overtime to fill in where they thought state dollars for schools, police, health care services and worker supports ought to go.
With three days left until a deadline set by legislative leaders, it remained unclear Tuesday whether unofficial working groups were coming closer to compromise. If the Legislature can't strike a deal on a two-year budget by June 30, the state could face a government shutdown.
Advocates, lawmakers and others this week pressed officials to open up the budget talks to ensure transparency.
Just one legislative working group met publicly this week to discuss the constraints for using federal American Rescue Plan Act funds for the state's health and human services programs. It wasn't immediately clear how many others had held private talks or opted not to meet at all.
"I think that the public will also be interested, or at least some parts of the public might be interested, to get the presentation along with us," Rep. Tina Liebling, D-Rochester, said during a Zoom meeting. "I also think that anyone watching will also draw from this how really complicated this all is."
Other than the livestreamed health and human services working group, just one other public meeting had been scheduled for the week and the Capitol sat empty on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, advocacy groups started holding rallies on the Capitol steps and pushing social media campaigns to generate attention for their proposals.
A coalition of youth workers, business groups and AARP officials on Tuesday held a news conference outside of the Capitol to call for a change in Minnesota law that would allow high school students who are laid off from their jobs to collect unemployment insurance. They also urged lawmakers to rewrite provisions that prevent Social Security recipients or applicants from receiving unemployment benefits or reduces the benefits they can draw from the state.
"We're optimistic that it'll get in there. I think one of the big sticking points is though is how long are we going to have to wait?" Youthprise Policy Director Matt Norris said, noting competing Senate and House versions of the bill provided different onset dates. "We're in touch with our key champions along the way, but most of the negotiations are occurring in private."
A night earlier, family members of those killed by police deadly force gathered at the same spot to urge lawmakers to take up a slate of proposals they'd worked together to create.
"I don't want somebody else’s family to stand here with me,” Katie Wright, whose son Daunte Wright was shot and killed by a Brooklyn Center police officer last month, told a crowd. "Before it happens to somebody else, somebody has to do something.”
Lawmakers on a bipartisan basis have called for opening up the budget process to allow for more transparency and input from stakeholders.
“Partly because of COVID, partly because we have to do so many hearings remotely, and so many of these discussions remotely, that Minnesotans and the media do not have access to see what’s going on," Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent, D-Woodbury, said on May 17, the final day of the legislative session.
Kent noted that lawmakers would pick up the work of writing a $52 billion budget ahead of a mid-June special session. And she said lawmakers would "do that better if we actually do that in front of the people of Minnesota.”