What Minnesota Politics Looks Like: Housing, Education, Public Safety

In a newsletter to his constituents, Republican Rep. Jeremy Munson (District 23B in southern Minnesota) recently indicated: “The Governor was supposed to spend $4 billion, give $4 billion in tax relief, and leave $4 billion on the bottom line for next session… When Senate Republicans looked at this deal, they decided no deal was better than a bad deal and they ran out the clock. … From our point of view, we just dodged multi-year billions of dollars spending increase that would drain the surplus in just a few short years.”

A member of Changemakers Alliance (CALL) — an extension of Minnesota Women’s Press — sent the newsletter to us. The Minnesota housing crisis has been one of the primary issues CALL members have been engaged with this year. Some members report to us they are devastated and angry about the lack of movement, despite having people at the legislature all session explaining deep needs around the state. Phase Two of the CALL housing movement will begin this summer, which could include a scorecard of legislators’ work on behalf of solving the housing crisis. [To participate, visit womenspress.com/become-a-member]

Not only housing, but education and public safety, among many other things, once again did not get additional funding, despite a multi-billion-dollar surplus as people seek to recover from the pandemic and traditionally underfunded institutions remain in deficit mode.

Minnesota Reformer indicated that “billions of dollars [were left] on the table that will leave school districts scrambling to deal with budget shortfalls, and local governments without public works money to complete important projects. Minnesotans confronting the highest inflation in decades won’t see any direct payments or tax cuts to ease the pain of high gas and grocery bills. … Inflation and the ongoing pandemic have created urgent needs for school districts, hospitals, state agencies and the millions of Minnesotans they serve.”

As the Star Tribune put it in a roundup: “House Democrats and Walz headed into the session hoping to put hundreds of millions of dollars toward adding affordable housing and keeping people housed as evictions climbed. Senate Republicans wanted some spending to expand homeownership and hoped to block cities’ rent control measures. They could not reach a deal.”

In the meantime, last week Minnesota Reformer had a reporter at a tenants’ rally in New Brighton outside the property management office of HavenBrook Homes, one of the largest private landlords in Minnesota, to try to meet with the company’s local staff (it did not happen). HavenBrook is part of the holdings of a New York-based hedge fund, which controls 70,000 rental properties around the country, under the name of Pretium Partners, including more than 600 single-family homes in the Twin Cities. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has filed a lawsuit against HavenBrook for failing to maintain its properties. According to Minnesota Reformer, “Ellison alleges the lack of maintenance is part of the company’s business model.”

Republicans also were focused on spending dedicated to law enforcement, in contrast to Democratic emphasis on supporting community nonprofits to handle public safety issues, and there was no agreement on public safety funding.

Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller agreed to outlines of a bipartisan agreement about a week before the end of the regular session in May. According to Minnesota Reformer, “Former state Sen. Scott Jensen, the likely GOP nominee for governor against Walz this fall, said he called Republican senators during the final week of the session and urged them to hold off.

“Republicans had good reason to walk away from negotiations,” the Reformer continued. “They expect to win the upcoming legislative election in November, when all 201 seats will be on the ballot, and Jensen has showed viability against Walz in a recent MinnPost poll. A GOP trifecta would leave them with billions of dollars to use on tax cuts, which over time would help them achieve another goal — a sharp reduction in the size of government.”

There was some progress this year. According to the Star Tribune, lawmakers agreed to spend $500 million on checks for front-line workers, $2.7 billion into a state unemployment insurance trust fund to stave off tax increases on businesses, and approved smaller funding packages for veterans, mental health, and farmers. But there was no agreement “to finalize the details on a broad deal to cut $4 billion in taxes while spending another $4 billion on classrooms, new public safety initiatives and health care. They also agreed to a $1.4 billion package of construction projects in a bonding bill, typically passed in non-budget years, but didn’t finalize the bill.”

The surplus will remain until legislators return to the Capitol in January. Gov. Tim Walz says he is open to restarting the conversation about a special session with the Legislature, but says he is not optimistic that will happen.