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Coronavirus In Minnesota: State's $1.5B Budget Surplus Vanishes In Pandemic's Haze

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The state of Minnesota was looking at an unprecedented healthy financial outlook just six weeks ago, with a $1.5 billion surplus and another $2 billion in the state's rainy day fund.

Proposals for spending the states money ranged from a $2 billion upgrade to roads and bridges, to massive tax cuts.

Now, all of that has changed.

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Gov. Tim Walz confirmed Monday in his daily conference call that the budget surplus is essentially gone because it was always based on projected revenues coming into the state, and many of those revenues have dried up.

Walz did have one encouraging perspective: Minnesota has the lowest COVID-19 infection rate in the country of 17 cases per 100,000 residents. But even that is something the state can't take to the bank.

"We're not resting on those laurels. We're preparing for what will come. A surge to our hospitals, a burden on those emergency rooms and the risk to our neighbors," Walz said.

At a Minnesota Senate hearing, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said the state's revenue picture would improve if the state allowed some workers to return to their jobs.

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"The reason I've been advocating for the businesses that are safe, you know, whether it's landscaping, or golf course, or putting docks in or whatever, that we find a way to let them get back to work because it also means that we get more revenues coming into the state, and I know the governor is thinking about that, too," Gazelka said.

But Walz said while he is looking line by line at which professions could safely go back to work, he has to take a cautious approach.

"I want to be very clear. If I thought it were healthy, and I didn't think this thing would spread, we would open up every business tomorrow," Walz said.

The governor was also asked about how long his "Stay-At-Home" order, which expires this Friday, could be extended. Walz declined to get specific, but hinted broadly that the order could get extended through April. But he says he is not ready to make any announcement on that public.

The Minnesota legislature will be in session at the Capitol Tuesday. They will take up a bill to allow first responders and health care workers to be covered by workers' compensation if they get COVID-19.

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