Weather Forecast



Minnesota Capitol. Forum News Service

Here are the biggest sticking points lawmakers will face as they try to write a budget

ST. PAUL -- Some of the toughest fights of the year are set to start this week at the Capitol.

Legislative leaders and the governor will come together to negotiate how much the state should spend on its responsibilities like education, health care and roads and bridges. And those targets will constrain what lawmakers can pass as they negotiate compromise bills in conference committees.

The talks come after weeks of debates over on either side of the divided Legislature over how the state should spend nearly $50 billion over the next two years.

Before negotiations get underway, here's a look at the areas that are likely to cause the biggest fights in the final three weeks of the legislative session.

To tax or not to tax?

In essence, the conversation about taxes boils down to this: should the state raise taxes?

Democrats and Walz say yes. Republicans say no. And the result will determine whether Democrats can fund many of the proposals they've put forward.

House Democrats and Walz have proposed increasing taxes and fees to boost funding to schools, state health care programs and community prosperity efforts. And if approved, Minnesotans could see those tax hikes at the gas pump, in medical bills and, for some, as part of their state income taxes.

Democrats argue that more money is needed to make those "investments" and that Minnesotans are willing to pay more to get better services from the state.

Republicans have countered that Minnesotans are already overtaxed and put forth a plan that would keep taxes flat and offer tax relief to some.

Provider tax, abortion access among health care feuds

Republicans and Democrats also split on whether the state should keep in place a two-percent tax on medical providers. The tax that funds health care for low-income people and the working poor is set to expire at the end of the year.

Republicans, who've branded it the sick tax, argue the tax should sunset as dropping it could prevent providers from passing the cost down to patients, thus reducing the price tag for health care. Democrats say the tax is critical and letting it expire could mean low-income people that rely on the state for care would have no other option.

Walz has taken his campaign to keep the provider tax on the road, holding roundtable discussions in districts where GOP senators hold office to stump for keeping the tax in place. And a bipartisan group of four senators has brought forth a separate plan to let the tax expire and instead tax insurance claims paid by health plans and third-party administrators.

The groups also disagree on the best way to bring down the cost of insurance for Minnesotans who aren't covered by their employers. Democrats want to offer direct discounts to those in the individual insurance market and later offer them the option to buy into a state insurance program. Republicans want to continue a so-called reinsurance program, in which the state covers some of the cost to insurance companies of covering riskier patients and bringing down the cost of premiums for those on the individual market.

Reproductive rights provisions also vary between the House and Senate. The House bill would require insurance plans to cover the cost of birth control and would limit funding to groups that advocate for abortion alternatives. The Senate bill, meanwhile, would ban abortions 20 weeks after fertilization.

The House proposal also bans the "conversion therapy" of minors or vulnerable adults. The measure would prohibit mental health providers or other professionals from trying to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity. The Senate on a party-line vote failed to pass an amendment that would add the language to its health and human services spending bill.

Proposal to pay more at the pump

Walz has also taken his campaign on the road to talk about, well, roads. The governor and House Democrats want to phase in an increase on the state's gas tax to fund road and bridge repairs. Democrats would like to see a 20-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax increase phased in one nickel at a time over four years.

The new funds would be directed toward repairing roads and bridges across the state.

Senate Republicans have said they won't green light a gas tax hike. They recommended using existing transportation funds to pay for infrastructure projects.

Schools will see a boost, but how much?

Both the Senate and the House approved education spending bills that give schools a funding boost, but at different levels.

Republicans proposed a 0.5 % increase to the per-pupil funding formula for next year as compared to the 3 % increase put forth in Democrats' budget proposal. Both said it's important to increase funding to schools.

Republicans have also said they'll prioritize a proposal to fund up to $35 million in tax credits for people and organizations that fund scholarships for low- and middle-income families to send their kids to nonpublic schools. Democrats have opposed the bill.

Gun control bills in the crosshairs

The House as part of its public safety and judiciary spending bill approved a pair of gun control measures. One would require background checks the point of purchase of a pistol or semiautomatic military-style assault weapon. The other so-called "red flag" measure would allow a law enforcement officer or county attorney to request that the court remove a person's firearms if they are believed to pose a threat to themselves or to others.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, has said she'll fight until the end of session to pass the bills. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, has said they're "dead" in the Senate. And he suggested that Hortman and Walz prepare to drop the proposals and other DFL priorities that have raised GOP opposition before they sit down for three-way budget negotiations.

Fraud fuels fight over Child Care Assistance Program funds

The Child Care Assistance Program would get a funding boost under Democrats' proposal and families on the waitlist would get state support to enroll their kids in child care.

By contrast, the Senate proposal would put a freeze on the CCAP program and require the Department of Human Services to put in place changes to mitigate fraud. Republican lawmakers point to reported fraud in the program and say the department needs to do more to prevent and investigate misuse of state dollars.