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Legislature moves forward on budget after breaking standoff

MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Legislature moved forward with an environment budget bill Tuesday after leaders broke a standoff that could have shut down state parks before the Independence Day holiday weekend.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka announced Monday that Republicans had dropped their demand that Democratic Gov. Tim Walz abandon his effort to encourage a switch to electric cars. He told reporters he had assurances that the clean car standards wouldn’t be implemented until 2024, which he said will make it a campaign issue.

The bill funds the Department of Natural Resources, including the state park system, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and other programs. The House Ways and Means committee voted Tuesday to send it to the floor for a vote.

The legislation is one of several bills making up a $52 billion two-year budget that lawmakers must pass before July 1 to avert a partial government shutdown. Bills to fund higher education and projects financed through the state’s Legacy Amendment await the governor’s signature; others are still in the works.

On a 45-21 vote Tuesday, the Senate passed a jobs budget bill and sent it to the House after Republicans beat back an attempt by Democratic Sen. Karla Bigham, of Cottage Grove, to restore language to require oil refineries to employ only skilled and highly trained workers. Her amendment was aimed at the Marathon refinery in St. Paul Park, where some 200 Teamsters have been idled since January in what the union calls a lockout and the refinery calls a strike. One of the main issues is the use of nonunion contract workers.

The Senate approved Bigham’s amendment 50-17 on Friday, with several Republicans switching their “no” votes to “yes” when it became clear that it would pass. But GOP lawmakers regrouped. The amendment was later stripped out in committee, and her effort to restore the safety language failed Tuesday on a 32-34 party-line vote.

Gazelka disclosed during the debate that a deal has been reached for over $200 million in bonuses for essential workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. He declined to give details pending an official announcement, but indicated it would stay separate from the jobs bill.

Some of the toughest disputes have involved the public safety budget, and whether to include new policing measures on top of those passed last summer following the death of George Floyd. Another has been Walz’s reliance on emergency powers to manage the pandemic.

Walz, Gazelka and House Speaker Melissa Hortman told reporters they’re confident of finishing before the current budget expires June 30.