ST. PAUL — State legislators this week finally approved a $52 billion two-year state budget that they say will help lift the state up as it recovered from the coronavirus pandemic and economic recession.

It was a tense few weeks in St. Paul as lawmakers wheeled and dealed up until the last day, with a state budget shutdown on the line if they didn’t meet their Wednesday, June 30, constitutional deadline.

In classic legislative style, lawmakers delivered some 11th-hour surprises, including a bipartisan deal to cease Gov. Tim Walz’s coronavirus peacetime emergency and corresponding powers.

With the budget complete, Minnesotans can breathe a sigh of relief knowing their state parks are funded, essential agencies will not go dark and benefits like rental assistance and SNAP benefits won’t see hiccups.

Even with a sizable $52 billion in expenditures, the budget does not contain any tax hikes. In fact, it has a nearly $1 billion tax cut, aimed to help out struggling businesses who received federal stimulus money to make it through the pandemic, as well as Minnesotans who used expanded unemployment benefits through the recession. The Minnesota Dept. of Revenue said Thursday that it has begun adjusting tax returns and eligible Minnesotans will receive refunds automatically.

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The fun might not be over in St. Paul, though, with the Senate sticking around town. With the House adjourned, the body cannot pass major legislation alone, but they could potentially oust members of Walz’s cabinet like they did last year.

Here’s a look at major parts of the budget:

Education

After more than a year of disrupted learning, Minnesota lawmakers pledged to invest big in education to help make up for lost time — and address disparities in learning outcomes that predated the coronavirus pandemic.

The state’s education budget includes a 2.45% funding increase from current levels in its first year, and a subsequent 2% increase over that amount in its second year. That comes out to equal Minnesota’s greatest funding boost to public education in 15 years, or $1.1 billion over four years.

Democrats’ major education policy wins include preserving the state’s 4,000 pre-kindergarten slots, a program to recruit and retain teachers of color and investments in special education and English Language Learner programs. Republicans celebrated that with more than a billion dollars in increased funding did not come new mandates on schools, and most of the money “will be sent directly to local school districts allowing them the flexibility to spend it on the specific needs of their districts.”

House Education Finance Chair Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, said in a June 26 statement that the compromised budget “was a hard-fought win for Minnesota students and families, especially after an unprecedented year of COVID-19.”

“Our education budget delivers students and families the tools they need to recover from the pandemic challenges and thrive well into the future,” he said.

And Senate Education Committee Chair Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, said Republicans’ philosophy has been consistent from the first day of session: we are going to focus on students, not systems; on parents and families, not lobbyists and institutions.”

“I am proud to say this education budget achieves those goals,” he said. “This fantastic bill is a huge victory for Minnesota students, families, teachers, and local schools.”

Public Safety

By far the most difficult budget to negotiate between Republicans and Democrats, according to leadership, was the state’s public safety budget. While the budget’s major constitutional obligation is to fund Minnesota’s state law enforcement, judicial system and crime labs, it also became the epicenter for lawmakers’ debate over the role of police and how the state can hold them accountable.

At the forefront of negotiations was the People of Color and Indigenous Caucus, who kept pressure on a resistant Senate Republican caucus to advance more police and accountability measures. In the immediate aftermath of George Floyd’s murder last summer, the Minnesota Legislature passed a slate of police reforms, but the POCI Caucus has maintained for a year that it was not enough.

As for police reforms, the budget includes new regulations on the use of no-knock warrants, as well as reforms to a state database tracking police misconduct allegations. But Democrats were not successful in their efforts to end traffic stops for minor vehicle infractions and change policies to release body camera footage to families more quickly if police kill their loved ones. Senate Republicans would not budge on the issue, refusing to take up policies they deemed would make law enforcement’s jobs more difficult.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, D-Golden Valley, told reporters Thursday, July 1, that “it’s disappointing, obviously” that Democrats couldn’t get Republicans to go all the way, but “I think enough members of our caucus felt like they could look themselves in the mirror and say, ‘There was nothing more we could do.’”

“People also need to feel when they’re committed to an issue, they need to feel that they’ve gone to the last mile, they pushed as far as they could possibly go,” Winkler said. “You saw that there was a bit of wobbliness on the public safety bill when it was finally up for passage in the Senate. I think that is an indicator that we pushed it as far as we possibly could. We got the Senate to go along with as much as we possibly could.”

The public safety budget comes with a number of other policy changes, including the formation of an office to investigate Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives, the closing of Minnesota’s controversial “voluntary intoxication” loophole in cases of sexual assault, civil asset forfeiture and fines and fees reforms, pay raises for state troopers and more.

Health and Human Services

Funding public health and social programs, this year’s Health and Human Services budget shined a spotlight on child care, assistance for Minnesotans with disabilities, behavioral and mental health care, telehealth and a concerted effort to improve maternal outcomes in the state.

Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, who chairs the Senate’s Health and Human Services committee, said in a June 26 statement that the budget negotiated between Republicans and Democrats “supports initiatives to help working families, especially mothers and their babies,” as well as telehealth expansion to improve health care accessibility and affordability.

Overall, Benson said the investments will help bolster the state’s health care system as it continues to recover from the pandemic. Republicans also maintained reinsurance, a program that Democrats fought against but Republicans say helps to stabilize health insurance costs in the state.

Among Democrats’ wins in the budget were mammoth investments in child care, thanks in part to coronavirus aid from the federal government. Child care providers will see $300 million in grants over the next two years, 70% of which will go toward increasing their employees’ pay. Another $30 million will go toward facility and training improvements. Lawmakers are also creating a task force to study the current child care and early learning landscape in Minnesota, which Democrats say “was in crisis even before the pandemic - unaffordable and inaccessible.”

Rep. Dave Pinto, D-St. Paul, who chairs the House’s early childhood committee, said in a June 28 statement that, “"Investments in the earliest years have the biggest payoff for both individuals and society.”