By STEVE KARNOWSKI
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Even as Wisconsin lawmakers struggle to break out of an impasse on the state’s next budget, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and legislative leaders found a way to work together on a deal that avoids an increase in gas taxes.
In the end, Walz and his fellow Democrat, House Speaker Melissa Hortman, had to give up the gas tax hike they had wanted for transportation. Meanwhile Senate Republicans, under Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, accepted the permanent extension of a tax on health care providers.
The final compromise was made easier by a projected $1 billion surplus that let lawmakers increase spending by about 6% — the two-year budget calls for spending $48 billion — while allowing for some tax cuts.
Minnesota has the only state Legislature in which Republicans control one chamber and Democrats the other. That’s not to say, though, that state governments aren’t divided in other ways in other places. In Wisconsin, for instance, Republicans control the Legislature and Democrats the executive branch.
And even being of the same party doesn’t necessarily guarantee agreement. In Wisconsin, Assembly Republicans have at least expressed willingness to consider Gov. Tony Evers’ plan to increase the state’s gas tax. Senate Republicans, meanwhile, are skeptical of the idea.
David Schultz, a political scientist at Hamline University in Minnesota, said his state’s divided Legislature is a reflection of American politics in general. As is true in Congress, he said, the divisions show how two parties have very different ideas about the role of government, making it hard to find middle ground.
“There’s the old line that says if everybody is unhappy it must be a good compromise,” he said. “I’m just not sure that at the end of the day we have a compromise so much as capitulation on both sides.”
Schultz, who has taught state and local politics for 30 years, said no other state has become as dependent on special sessions as Minnesota. The Legislature has held 10 budget sessions over the past 20 years and eight have gone into overtime.
“Minnesota has no pride in the fact that the process for more than a generation has been broken,” he said.