Spending, Crime Top Lawmakers’ Agendas for 2022 Session
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — In a year where every state legislative seat and the governor’s office is up for grabs in November’s election, the state’s enormous $7.7 billion surplus and how to spend it looms over Minnesota legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Tim Walz ahead of the start of the legislative session on Monday.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Majority Leader Ryan Winkler return to lead the Democratic House while the GOP-controlled Senate sees a change in leadership in Republican Sen. Jeremy Miller, of Winona, who took over as majority leader after Sen. Paul Gazelka, of East Gull Lake, announced his bid for governor. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have pointed to issues like crime as a major issue this session, and it will likely carry over as a campaign issue during midterm elections this fall.
Here’s what to expect as lawmakers convene on Monday for the 2022 session:
Walz’s proposed supplemental budget includes a spending plan focused on children and families that makes up more than $5 billion over three years and another proposal as part of an economic opportunity plan that would send checks of $175 or $350 to more than 2.7 million Minnesota households.
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans want to give that money back to Minnesotans in the form of permanent tax cuts. Miller on Wednesday highlighted their effort to eliminate taxes on Social Security benefits and signaled a potential push for other ongoing tax relief.
The governor also proposed a record $2.7 billion “local jobs and projects” bonding package — much larger than the $1.9 billion package passed in 2020 that is the current largest in the state’s history. Bonding bills require a three-fifths majority to pass, making the minority party in each chamber essential to any package’s chances of making it to the governor’s desk to be signed.
There seems to be common ground, however, in repaying the state’s debt to the federal government for jobless aid to prevent an unemployment insurance tax increase — an issue Republicans have called a top priority and that Walz included in his budget plan.
Both caucuses and the governor unveiled several public safety-focused proposals earlier this week. Walz’s spending plan featured hundreds of millions of dollars for local law enforcement agencies, and House Democrats released a $100 million public safety package that set aside nearly half to fund the hiring of beat cops and bolster investigations.
While Senate Republicans touted proposals like mandatory minimums and limiting prosecutorial discretion to ignore low-level crimes as top priorities, they also emphasized recruiting and retaining more cops through bonuses for officers, pension reforms and college scholarships.
House Democrats will return to efforts to legalize marijuana, which passed in a historic vote in the House last session with some Republican support. The proposal would legalize marijuana use for adults and expunge minor cannabis convictions in an effort to remedy inequities in marijuana arrests and convictions among white and Black residents despite similar usage rates.
Walz, who said earlier he would sign the bill if it made it to his desk, added funding for a new regulatory Cannabis Management Office to his proposed budget, signaling stronger support. The bill is unlikely to see a floor vote or hearing the Senate but the issue will live on as a campaign issue this fall.
Redistricting, or the process of drawing legislative maps every decade based on census data, could also play a role in the balance of power going forward. Lawmakers have until Feb. 15 to agree on a plan, but the divided Legislature will likely result in the courts taking over the process.
The changes to boundaries could play a role in whether slim House Democratic and Senate GOP majorities could flip control in November.
The legislative session will run through late May and once again look different than in the past due to pandemic-induced limitations. The Senate will hold hybrid hearings that both lawmakers and the public can choose to attend virtually or in person, and House committee hearings will nearly all be held virtually.