The 2021 legislative session has ended without a new state budget in place, the elimination of state taxation of Personal Payment Protection (PPP) loans and unemployment insurance benefits before Tax Day, and any decisions on when the governor’s emergency powers will end.
State Representative Paul Torkelson of Hanska said a number of last-minute provisions in this legislative session give Gov. Walz power grabs that let him continue to spend state funds and create policy without oversight from the peoples’ representatives in the House and Senate.
Torkelson said, “We have separation of powers for a reason, yet legislative leadership is allowing the executive branch to call all the shots. To say I am disappointed with how session has ended would be an understatement.”
Torkelson noted a “tribunal” of the governor, House speaker, and Senate majority leader determined on May 17 the parameters of how a budget will be formed. Minnesota is receiving billions of dollars from the federal government through pandemic aid, and it is a core function of the legislative branch to determine how any state funding will be spent. Yet, as part of the “tribunal” agreement, Governor Walz will be allowed to spend $500 million however he sees fit – without legislative oversight.
Torkelson said the agreement also includes a provision that requires the governor must approve bills before they are voted on by the legislature, in essence, allowing the governor to write the laws before they reach his desk.
In addition, there is no agreement on when or how the governor’s emergency powers will end, meaning one-person rule on the pandemic will continue in Minnesota, even though Torkelson said it is clear the emergency portion of the pandemic has been over for quite a while.
Finally, on the last day of session, legislative leadership agreed to pass a health and human services bill that takes a major step towards the legalization of smokable recreational marijuana, but agreed not to hold a vote on ending the taxation on PPP loans and unemployment insurance benefits. This means struggling business owners and workers were forced to pay state taxes on income that the federal government chose to exempt.
Torkelson expects a special session to be called in mid-June to begin approval of budget bills.