With just four weeks left in the legislative session, Minnesota Republican leaders say Gov. Tim Walz could have laid out a “more ambitious agenda” during his State of the State address Sunday.
The governor delivered his fourth State of the State speech Sunday night at the Capitol, calling on lawmakers to compromise while setting his priorities for the state’s $9.3 billion budget surplus.
Returning taxpayer dollars
Walz has recommended sending money to residents in the form of one-time $500 rebate checks for most adults, but lawmakers are divided on the proposal. Republicans think the state is overtaxing the people of Minnesota.
“Our proposal, give the money back to the taxpayers, not with one-time checks but with permanent ongoing tax relief so working Minnesotans have more money in their pockets every single paycheck,” said Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller.
Miller added that Republicans support fully eliminating social security income taxes because it’s “long overdue to give seniors the relief they deserve.”
On Sunday, House Minority Leader Rep. Kurt Daudt noted that the state is collecting approximately 10% more money than it needs from taxpayers.
”We could cut taxes 10% across the board and still meet our demands in state government,” Daudt said. “Image the incentive and the economic benefit that would be to our state’s economy.”
Unemployment trust fund and ‘hero checks’
During Sunday’s speech, Walz called out the Legislature for its delay on two key issues: replenishing the state’s unemployment insurance (UI) trust fund and sending bonuses or “hero checks” to frontline workers.
“The unemployment insurance trust fund is one of the best anti-poverty programs that we have. It was paid by those businesses to support those workers at a time of need … We have the responsibility and the capacity to replenish the unemployment insurance trust fund both for those small businesses and for those workers who may need it in the future. I ask us, let’s do this now,” Walz urged.
In February, Senate Republicans passed a $2.7 billion bill to refill the UI trust fund. However, Republicans say House Democrats won’t pass the bill unless Republicans agree to $1 billion in hero pay for frontline workers. The GOP and Gov. Walz had already agreed to a $250 million frontline worker package last year, but House Democrats are asking for an additional $700 million.
Daudt said the governor “needs to show some leadership” on replenishing the UI trust fund by pressuring Democrats to pass the Senate’s bill.
“Tonight the governor literally referred to that as a tax increase on Minnesota employers and that’s what it is,” said Daudt. “If that doesn’t happen, Democrats will be forcing a tax increase at a time when our state has an almost $10 billion surplus. It’s inexcusable and it shows a lack of leadership.”
Walz acknowledged efforts made by law enforcement across the state and proposed a $300 million budget to invest in public safety.
“In some of those communities it’s going to make sure they can hire law enforcement officers they need. In other communities it’s going to be to modernize their 911 systems … some communities are talking about buying unmarked vehicles to transport domestic violence survivors and children,” Walz explained.
Republicans say the governor’s proposal on public safety falls “woefully short.”
“We have rising crime rates like this state has never seen,” said Daudt. “Frankly, the governor’s proposal of $300 million doesn’t actually do anything to hold criminals accountable or recruit more law enforcement.”
“If someone breaks laws there should be consequences,” said Miller. “Our proposal holds a three strike law. Guess what? If you break the law three times, there should be consequences, especially if you’re a repeat offender doing it on an ongoing basis.”
Last year, the Legislature passed a bipartisan two-year budget that included record investments in education.
Walz claimed Sunday that the state has the capacity to expand pre-K and “fully fund” schools. However, Republicans noted that the state still has one of the highest achievement gaps in the country.
“We’re not changing the achievement gap; we’re not changing much of anything yet we keep putting in new money,” said Sen. Gary Dahms. “Last budget we put a lot of dollars into education and yet we’re here back today for more money. Why are we not asking for more reform?”
Overall, Republicans say Walz’s speech came too late in the legislative session to inspire any compromise on some of the key issues facing the state.
“This week we actually got close to a deal on some of the stuff. Unfortunately, Democrats in the House couldn’t get all the way there and so these things now still stand unaccomplished,” Daudt said.