With the fate of the bonding bill still unsettled, political tensions between Gov. Walz and Republican legislators have led to a great deal of uncertainty about what September will bring at the Legislature. In fact, although Gov. Walz has called a special session each month since June coinciding with the renewal of his peacetime emergency declaration, there is some speculation that he may not do so again.
The special sessions Gov. Walz have called like clockwork every 30 days are based on a fairly vague portion of the peacetime emergency statute that seems to require him to give the Legislature the opportunity to have a say in whether the powers can be maintained. That said, there are conflicting interpretations of the statute that have led some to speculate that Gov. Walz may not need to call the Legislature back into session to maintain his peacetime emergency powers. But, of course, that would also mean the Legislature wouldn’t have the opportunity to vote on other matters like the bonding bill or supplemental budget and tax provisions that some legislators still want to adopt.
If Walz does not call lawmakers into session, it would be the result of Senate Republicans taking aim at his commissioners. In August, what was expected to be a sleepy special session ended up producing fireworks as—in a surprise move—Senate Republicans voted to oust the commissioner of the Department of Labor and Industry, Nancy Leppink.
Tensions have also been high between the Governor and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-East Gull Lake), as the two traded sharply-worded letters this week over the Governor’s response to the pandemic. To try to release some of that pressure, Gov. Walz and Sen. Gazelka held a private sit-down meeting Thursday afternoon. Gov. Walz said that he and Sen. Gazelka did not discuss the special session that could be coming next week, nor the situation surrounding Gov. Walz’s commissioner appointments, instead focusing on COVID-19 response items.
Where does bonding stand?
Even if lawmakers come back next week, the bonding bill will have to wait. We have previously reported on a “blackout” period that relates to the timing of an in-progress bond sale initiated in August, which essentially requires the state to freeze its financial position for a period of time and not make any new, major commitments—which includes passage of a new bonding bill. When lawmakers come back next week, that blackout period will still be active, and will last at least until mid-September.
The CGMC and other organizations continue to push lawmakers to find a way to get the bonding bill done in September, and the pressure continues to build. After an extremely disappointing July session, followed by the blackout period in August, all eyes are on September to pass a bonding bill that makes vital investments around the state. Lawmakers from both parties have expressed support for still doing a bill this year, but other issues seem to have gotten in the way at every turn.
Privately, lawmakers have expressed more openness to separating issues that were previously tied together for political leverage, such as the House Republican minority’s insistence that Gov. Walz end his peacetime emergency declaration before they will lend any support to a bonding bill. However, it remains to be seen how the discussion will play out publicly in the coming days, or if other issues will continue to derail the infrastructure package.