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Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday, May 15, 2019, said budget negotiations were entering a "really important time," but offered few details to reporters about what was going on behind closed doors. Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service

Walz says budget talks entering 'really important time,' offers few details

ST. PAUL — Minnesota legislative leaders and the governor on Wednesday, May 15, continued the second day of marathon budget talks, which they said entered a "really important time."

The seemingly productive talks come after a series of negotiations that ended in deadlocks, stalling progress in advancing a two-year state budget expected to top $48 billion.

A day prior, the leaders spent more than 10 hours talking through how they might bring their budgets closer together in the last week of the legislative session.

Republicans, who control the Senate, and Democrats, who hold the governor's office and the House majority, split on whether to raise taxes and extend existing ones. Democrats entered budget talks determined to raise the tax on gasoline to fund repairs to roads and bridges.

Walz and Democrats also said the state should continue a 2% tax on medical providers that raises about $700 million each year to fund health care for low-income people. GOP lawmakers said the state should use a projected $1 billion surplus to fund spending boosts and keep taxes flat.

Lawmakers have until May 20 to wrap up their work or risk going into overtime. If they can't complete a budget before the end of June, they could force a state government shut down.

While their public comments were few Wednesday, their tone seemed to suggest that progress was taking place in private.

“The reason for the lack of a lot of comments on this is that we’re at a really important time," Gov. Tim Walz told reporters during a break in the meetings. "There’s a lot of candid conversation happening."

At an event honoring law enforcement officers who'd died in the line of duty Wednesday night, the DFL governor said Minnesotans should be able to expect leaders in the nation's only divided Legislature to work together.

"Shame on us if we can’t figure out a way to work with one another," he said.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, spent the day in negotiations with the governor but didn't offer public comments about their progress Wednesday.

At the Capitol, conference committees continued to talk through differences between spending plans advanced by the Senate and the House of Representatives. And some completed the work they can accomplish without a target for how much they can spend on their subject area.

Some Minnesotans have sought to gain lawmakers' attention in the busy last few days of the session by rallying at the Capitol, attempting to sit down with lawmakers, and some going as far as to put up a tent for several days or fly a plane with a banner around the building.

With dozens of policy bills woven into large spending bills, stakeholders worry that their measures will be dropped in conference committees or pared back for passage.

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