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Special session looks likely as budget talks become increasingly fractious

Early calls of bipartisanship seem to have disappeared.

It's becoming increasingly likely that Minnesota lawmakers will be unable to pass a budget by the end of the session on Monday, meaning a deal will have to be hammered out in a special session.

Talks continued on Saturday, with little said publicly for hours as a so-called "cone of silence" descended on the state capitol, but the cone was shattered as negotiations broke down, leading to party leaders taking jabs at the other.

Gov. Tim Walz gave an impromptu speech in the capitol rotunda, as he addressed a group of protesting teachers who were calling for more spending on education.

Walz had made education one of his core priorities, and believes he has a mandate for it following his November election win. 

Both Walz and House Democrats have proposed bigger education funding increases than the Republicans in the Senate, with the governor calling on the GOP to increased its spending proposals.

"[The voters] told us very clearly, invest in our schools, invest in the teachers that make it happen, and invest in our children," Walz said, per MPR News. "What I don’t recall them saying is negotiate away our future to give tax breaks to millionaires. Not a damn one of them said it."

Republicans, meanwhile, have made it clear they are opposed to any increase in the gas tax, and have called for concessions from Democrats on their spending proposal, which is about $2 billion higher than the GOP had put forward.

On Saturday, the Senate passed a stopgap spending bill by a vote of 35-31 along party lines that would keep the state government funded in the event of a shutdown.

The passage of the bill was a signal that the Republicans don't see much hope of an accord before the legislative deadline, with a group of Republican lawmakers taking to the steps of the capitol holding up signs saying "Keep Minnesota Open."

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"While I have faith the governor and the legislature will pass a balanced budget, this legislation is an insurance policy that keeps Minnesota open for business," said Sen. Rich Draheim (R–Madison Lake). 

"I encourage Governor Walz and the House of Representatives to join us in passing this into law and keep government functional for all Minnesotans."

But the DFL was not happy with the Senate's vote, calling the stopgap funding bill a "budgetary stunt" that makes reaching a budget agreement "much harder."

"When Senate Republicans passed their entire wish list as an 'insurance measure' in case negotiations fail, they gave themselves every incentive to sabotage those negotiations. This is a political stunt, not serious governing," said DFL Chairman Ken Martin.

"Minnesotans overwhelmingly voted for DFLers last November. It's time for Republicans to accept that, drop their gimmicks, and work with DFLers for the good of Minnesotans everywhere."

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