Republicans said Gov. Tim Walz’s three-phase plan for lifting his COVID-19 mandates is “not good enough and not soon enough.”
“The governor continues to lead alone, ignoring our suggestions and the suggestions of the businesses and medical community to find any compromise — especially on the mask mandate. This does not make our job at the Capitol to pass a balanced budget without raising taxes, and on time, any easier,” Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said in a statement.
Under Walz’s timeline, Minnesota will be free of nearly all COVID-19 restrictions by no later than July 1, but likely earlier. The reopening plan was announced as the governor prepares to enter into negotiations with Republicans over Minnesota’s two-year budget, which needs to be passed by the Legislature’s May 17 adjournment to avoid a special session.
Gazelka called for dropping the mask mandate and other restrictions in an initial budget offer sent to Democrats this week.
“My reaction today is simple: Not good enough and not soon enough. The emergency is over, and the mandates need to end,” the Republican leader said Thursday.
“I said in January, when the vaccines were available to young, healthy people, the emergency is over. We’ve been there for weeks. It’s about time the governor recognizes that vaccinations were the key. And while Minnesota stumbled mightily out of the gate to vaccinate the most vulnerable, we now have an abundant supply and appointments,” he added.
Gazelka pointed out that Walz’s reopening plan “won’t allow for kids to finish the year with normal graduations and celebrations like prom, or allow normal participation in sports and activities.”
“It’s too late for many to find summer camps and plan vacations in-state. Outdoor spaces are still limited by distancing despite all the evidence that the outdoors is safe. A ‘normal’ summer is still a long way off,” he said.
Most Republicans echoed Gazelka’s comments, saying Walz’s plan is “not good enough or soon enough.”
“As long as Walz holds onto his emergency powers, he is essentially cutting out the Legislature and has free reign over the entire state,” said state Sen. Julia Coleman, R-Chanhassen.
“We have a Constitutionally required job to do at the Capitol, which is to work together to balance the budget,” she added. “Walz is deliberately holding Minnesota hostage in order to avoid the split Legislature and pass an aggressive budget that will raise taxes and generally hurt our state.”
Walz’s timeline doesn’t include a clear date for when he will relinquish his emergency powers, a major issue for Republicans who have persistently objected to the governor’s unilateral control over the pandemic response.
“More than 14 months ago, we were told we needed two weeks to flatten the curve, protect our health care system, and prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed. The data clearly show we’ve made incredible progress reducing case counts and getting Minnesotans vaccinated, but the governor insists on holding on to powers he doesn’t need,” said House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown. “It’s time to open up and end the emergency powers.”
Walz said he intends to invite legislative leaders to the governor’s mansion for a barbecue to negotiate the final budget.