Interview: Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka On Budget Talks

Esme Murphy spoke with one of the key leaders at the legislature (5:32). WCCO Sunday Morning - May 16, 2021

Video Transcript

ESME MURPHY: The Minnesota legislature is not going to have a budget done in time for tomorrow's deadline. So a special session will have to happen. Otherwise, the state will shut down in July 1 A short time ago, I spoke with one of the key players at the legislature, senate majority leader Paul Gazelka. Take a look.

And joining us right now, majority leader Senator Paul Gazelka. Senator Gazelka, thank you so much for coming on.

PAUL GAZELKA: Good morning, Esme.

ESME MURPHY: Good morning. Let's get this out of the way. We're headed to special session, aren't we?

PAUL GAZELKA: Yes, but I'm still very hopeful that we will yet get the targets, which is the key thing to getting done and the most difficult. And what that means is if we get that, then all the tax issues are settled, how much we spend on education, health and human services, environment, et cetera. And I do think we will. I am opti--

ESME MURPHY: Do you think you'll get that by tomorrow? By tomorrow night at midnight?

PAUL GAZELKA: Tomorrow night, the targets. That doesn't mean they'll get done.

ESME MURPHY: The targets. No, I know. The targets. You think you'll get the targets.

PAUL GAZELKA: Yeah. We are very committed to trying to do that. Both the Speaker and I bringing in the governor in want to get those targets. And it feels like we will.

ESME MURPHY: OK. Let me ask you about the small city of Brooklyn Center, which of course, was where Dante Wright was killed, passed police reform, including some of the reforms that are actually in the House bill that are being considered. What are the chances of a police reform bill being adopted by the legislature this year?

PAUL GAZELKA: So we're looking at all of the provisions that the House provided. We think some of them are antipolice and we're just not going to do any of those. But if there's reforms that makes sense, sort of like last July when we passed about a dozen police reforms, we'll take a look at them. I mean, I think one big one was highlighted just recently in the papers that we did last year. Changing arbitration and how we process when people are frustrated with the actions of a police officer.

And we have to give some of those reforms time. But also if they're not antipolice, we're going to take a look at them and see if anything fits.

ESME MURPHY: What is your top priority this session? Because the Democrats, the House says it's police reform for them.

PAUL GAZELKA: Yeah. Well, it's not police reform. We've done a lot of that. Getting the budget done. That means all of the different areas without a tax increase. We've been saying we're not going to do a tax increase. They want to raise taxes quite a bit, even though we have a big budget surplus. And if we can get that done, that's our responsibility. Without doing that, the government shuts down in a very broad way come July 1.

The courts ruled just a few years ago that they're not going to start funding things like they did in the past. A lot of it just shuts down. And that would be a problem.

ESME MURPHY: OK. And you're saying so-- is that a line in the sand? No tax increase for you?

PAUL GAZELKA: Yeah. It's always--

ESME MURPHY: That's a corporate tax rate they're talking about, and one for couples earning more than $1 million.

PAUL GAZELKA: Yeah. Any tax increase. [INAUDIBLE] gas tax. We're not going to do any tax increase when you have more than $1 billion in surplus, and billions and billions of money coming from the federal government in extra stimulus money.

ESME MURPHY: All right. Let's talk about the marijuana vote. You've said it's not going to come up on the Senate floor. But that's something that would bring a lot of tax revenue into the state, and it's also something that a lot of people, including a lot of Republicans think is inevitable. Maybe next year. It still will be on the books next year.

PAUL GAZELKA: You know, we did a hearing on it within the last couple of years and all of the ramifications are what people are concerned about. More accidents, less productivity, and more mental health problems. We just saw the opioid crisis and now we want to open up a brand new area. You know people like Hazelton or teen challenge say, look, this is an entry level drug into more drugs. Are you sure you want to go that route?

What I do think we should continue to explore is lowering the criminal offenses and are there medical reasons that we're missing? Those are two things that I hear a lot of. But just making recreational marijuana legal, I don't think that's wise.

ESME MURPHY: And just quickly, the governor's special powers. Is it time to end them?

PAUL GAZELKA: Well, it's a long time ago it should have been ended. But you know, the CDC lifted the mask mandate. We've been pressuring the governor to take that off, frankly. If you've been vaccinated, there's no risk. In the Senate, we haven't been wearing a mask for a while. But I think one of the things that I'm talking about that must go is all of the fines that they did on businesses. All the COVID fines related to them. Just trying to navigate and survive during this time.

There were very little offenses for all the protesters. There wasn't a lot there for when the Statue of Christopher Columbus was ripped down. So why are we, in the midst of this pandemic those that protested in their own way, why are we doing fines on them that are very big? So that's one of the key things that I'm looking to get rid of here as we get through the end. It feels like we're we're out of COVID. So let's just get back to normal.

ESME MURPHY: All right. Well Senator, Gazelka. Always a pleasure. Thank you so much. I know you're very busy. We appreciate your time this morning.

PAUL GAZELKA: Thank you.