Abortion rights, climate change, voter access: Gov. Walz outlines his second-term goals
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- DFL Gov. Tim Walz begins his second term in office eager move on from the worst of the pandemic that defined his first four years and move forward, now with opportunity to pass his agenda, as Democrats take back the reins in both chambers of the state legislature.
"I'm feeling incredibly optimistic," Walz said Friday. "Obviously winning the election, we're happy with that. We've got some working majorities. But I just think it's moving beyond that—the lessons learned—and now we can start to apply things to improve people's lives."
In an interview with WCCO, the governor detailed some of his priorities as lawmakers begin their work of passing a two-year budget and policies that impact schools, family budgets, public safety and more.
He will formally unveil his budget proposal later this month, which will start that process.
"It's our goal to make this the best state for families to live," Walz said.
He listed investments in education and infrastructure, tackling climate change, and protecting abortion rights and voting access as top issues he care about.
Last year, he pitched $300 million in local government aid to help communities meet their growing public safety needs. He vows to do the same again, but said that the proposal would be coupled "smart gun legislation" to reduce gun violence. Democrats have supported red-flag laws and expanding background checks on gun sales, likely to be introduced again this year.
"You're going to see a very robust public safety package and a lot of it's going to be predicated on the flexibility of those dollars to local communities to make the decisions that's best for them," Walz said.
He also plans to push again for his one-time rebate checks plan that would provide $1,000 for individuals and $2,000 per family, paid for with some of that record-setting $17.6 billion surplus. The payments previously received a lukewarm response from his fellow Democrats.
But when asked about tax policy, he didn't commit to cutting rates with that bright budget outlook. He urged caution "before we make a lot of those long-term major changes," citing the war in Ukraine, ongoing inflationary pressures and uncertainty persisting with COVID.
"I don't view these surpluses as meaning because they're there, that means we need to spend more," the governor said. "We need to spend smartly when it makes a difference, but we also need to return it to the people when it makes a difference."
Republican and DFL leaders in the divided legislature last year alongside the governor made a broad agreement to spend what was then a surplus that exceeded $6 billion. That proposal included fully exempting social security income from state taxes, but as negotiations broke down, the deal unraveled and ultimately was never signed into law.
Now, the governor supports social security tax relief for most -- but not all -- with carve outs for top earners. Top DFL leaders also said they don't support an eliminating that social security all seniors, even if some newly-elected DFL members in the Senate that solidify the majority do call it a top priority.
"For most Minnesotans, you're going see tax relief in this. You're going to see it on a lot of fronts in terms of property tax relief. You're going to see it in the forms of child care," Walz said. "And what's changed was as we cut a deal and Senate Republicans decided to roll the dice and come back again this year."
DFL leaders want to move quickly on some legislation, including federal tax conformity and putting abortion rights into law -- an effort that moved out of a House committee this week. The governor anticipates both bills to be among the first he signs into law with the tax bill as early as next week.
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