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Walz, legislative leaders net walleye, fail to reel in budget deal

Minnesota Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, at far left, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, left, and House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, share a laugh at the Governor's Fishing Opener on Saturday, May 11, 2019, in Albert Lea. Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service1 / 2
Legislative leaders and the governor return to shore after boating on Fountain Lake at the Governor's Fishing Opener on Saturday, May 11, 2019, in Albert Lea. Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service2 / 2

ALBERT LEA, Minn. — The governor and Minnesota legislative leaders hooked a baker's dozen fish at the Governor's Fishing Opener Saturday, May 11, but they didn't reel in a budget deal.

Gov. Tim Walz, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, along with Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, and House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, spent the morning on Fountain Lake on a pontoon boat. Ahead of the trip, they said they'd be open to talking shop on the boat but decided Saturday morning to focus on the fish.

"I've been to a few of these with the governor and this is a great time for us to build the relationship part of it," Gazelka said. "The last stretch is always tough and just to come out and fish together I think is really important."

Lawmakers have until next Monday, May 20, to wrap up a nearly $50 billion budget deal. And so far, they've not succeeded in finding a compromise.

The Democrats and Republicans sit on either side of a roughly $2 billion budget gap. Walz and House DFL lawmakers, who hold a majority in that chamber, want to raise taxes to fund spending increases for schools, health care programs and community prosperity efforts. Republicans say Minnesotans already pay enough and committed to opposing any tax hikes.

Walz and legislative leaders blew past a self-imposed deadline Monday, May 6, to set state spending targets and, after an abrupt halt in negotiations, postponed further talks. They're set to restart negotiations at the Capitol on Sunday evening.

Meanwhile, at the Capitol, lawmakers on Saturday continued hearings about policy items in larger spending bills that would outline state funds for education, public safety and taxes. Committee chairs have attempted to continue ironing out details passed in House and Senate versions of their spending bills, but will need targets from legislative leaders to determine what they can achieve.

The effort to set the spending targets ahead of the final weeks of the legislative session was intended to give lawmakers a cushion to review proposals written into omnibus spending bills to avoid mistakes. But Walz said the building deadline pressure could help force compromise.

"I think it probably was going to take a little more pressure of getting against the deadline to move some of those (priorities)," Walz said.

Leaders have said they'll have until late Wednesday to strike a deal before they'd likely require a special session to wrap up business. And they remained optimistic that they could accomplish that.

"I think the relationships feel pretty solid, like we can trust each other to cut a deal," Walz said. "That's our hope."