Budget details emerge after days of hush-hush Capitol talks

Details of Minnesota’s next two-year budget began to flood out Wednesday after much of the $48 billion plan was negotiated in secret, setting up a special session that could keep lawmakers in St. Paul into the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

Committees in the House and Senate scheduled hearings to go over what was decided, and to take testimony from those who are pleased by the product and those annoyed with the outcome.

Among the agreements:

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  • A tax plan that will lower the 2nd income tax bracket to 6.8 percent beginning this year and freeze a statewide property tax levy for businesses. A higher state standard personal and dependent exemption. The bill also includes $52 million in additional aid to cities and counties.

  • An education spending bill that will approach $20 billion over the next two years. Schools will get 2 percent more for every student in each year along with help dealing with soaring special education expenses. There are also notable policy shifts: School districts would be required to let students carry sunscreen and reapply it as needed, even if they don’t have a doctor’s note; teachers will be eligible for suicide prevention training so they can spot and intervene with students in distress.

  • A public safety budget will spend $123 million more the next two years than the current budget. The bill will make changes to the solitary confinement policies in prisons and improve staffing levels. Sexual misconduct laws will revised, although to what extent remained unclear.

  • An environment budget bill that includes new spending to combat the spread of chronic wasting disease in deer. Some recreation fees will rise, including on cross-country ski passes. It also names some parkland in the St. Croix River area after former Vice President Walter Mondale. And there will be three free state park days.

  • A state government budget bill will allow the Minnesota Secretary of State to access more than $6 million in election security funding that's been tied up in negotiations since last legislative session.

All of these agreements and others are subject to votes in the upcoming special session, which Gov. Tim Walz will call soon.

Senate Republican Chief of Staff Kevin Matzek advised his members in an overnight email Wednesday to prepare to stay for a bit. It could begin as soon as Thursday.

“Saturday is a possibility,” Matzek wrote.

Much will depend on whether the minority parties agree to suspend rules and if there are amendments to the bills, which would lead to potentially lengthy debates.

The Legislature ended its regular session at midnight Monday after passing only a higher education budget bill. A last-minute attempt to pass an agriculture bill fell short that night.

During an informational hearing on the agriculture bill, Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, said the end-of-session crunch is a systemic problem.

“Both Democrats and Republicans have done it,” Hamilton said. “Hopefully, collectively as a body we can challenge all our leaders on getting the budgets negotiated in time to where we can actually have time to do our work.”

Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, said lawmakers too frequently fail to finish their work on time. Pelowski, who chairs a subcommittee on legislative procedure, said he intends to hold hearings soon on the issue.

“It’s interesting that once we have a failure there is suddenly a realization that we need reform here,” Pelowski said, adding, “We have had failure after failure after failure. And when attempts are made to reform this process, nobody is interested at the beginning of session and everybody is interested at the end of session.”

Tim Pugmire contributed to this report