Just as we began to emerge from the pandemic, the Minnesota Legislature adjourned on May 17 with no agreement on the state’s budget. As a result, 38,000 state employees have received layoff notices in anticipation of a potential July 1 state government shutdown. With negotiations for Minnesota’s $52 billion budget occurring largely behind closed doors, the media’s access to information — along with the public’s knowledge and oversight — has been shut out.
The private nature of these budget negotiations creates a dangerous dynamic: When critical conversations are held behind closed doors, it enables far-right Republican senators to hold up broadly supported, needed, mainstream legislation. The result is skewed negotiations defined by a radical right-wing agenda rather than a search for a reasonable middle ground. It allows Republicans to reject shared Minnesota values without explanation, public knowledge, testimony, or scrutiny.
For example, the Republican Senate’s version of the environmental omnibus bill (SF 959) cuts funding for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) — the state agencies tasked with protecting Minnesota’s precious environment, air, and water. It removes clean water protections, and strips regulations that protect our environment, native species, and clean air. The bill blocks the investments we need to create sustainable, family-supporting union jobs to lead us toward a just, clean energy transition.
After a months-long disinformation campaign to boost their efforts, Republicans have also made a right-wing rallying cry out of the new “Clean Cars rules” from the MPCA, doubling down on their refusal to fund our state parks in Minnesota, our Minnesota Zoo, and our science museum, unless the “Clean Cars rules” are canceled. Republicans also attempted to stop the rules from taking effect through the courts, but the judicial branch ruled this spring that the Clean Cars rulemaking is legal and appropriate.
Here’s the rub: The Clean Car rules simply require auto manufacturers to deliver some electric vehicles and hybrids into the state, so Minnesotans have those options available when purchasing a vehicle. That’s it. The rules are an important step to take, but they are a very small piece of the puzzle. On their own, they do not meet this moment as we move full steam ahead into the climate crisis, and even this small step wouldn’t take effect for years.
This spring we are already seeing weather records broken all over the state and world; we saw the biggest hurricane season in recorded history last year, and catastrophic fires across the west. If Senate Republicans honestly think a set of conservative “Clean Cars rules” are too much, we have a real problem, because it’s going to take a heck of a lot more than extremely modest rule changes to head off the worst-case scenario for the climate crisis.
This is just one example where Senate Republicans are demanding that we negotiate with their radical agenda instead of taking meaningful action, putting our future at stake.
It is time to shine some light on these negotiations and return them to the transparent conference committee process that our Minnesota Constitution established. We deserve to know how our budget is being made and who is fighting for the people, environment, and values that we hold dear.
No more closed-door deals that bargain away Minnesotans’ interests. No more legislating to the status quo. It is our job to ask for more, and for better, for our communities and with our communities.
We must act boldly and decisively to deliver on our promises to Minnesotans, and we must do so in the light of day.
Jennifer A. McEwen, DFL-Duluth, represents Minnesota Senate District 7.
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