MINNEAPOLIS -- Gov. Tim Walz and top DFL lawmakers formally announced Wednesday a double-down on the plan to send direct checks to Minnesotans struggling under the weight of inflation and record-high gas prices. Meanwhile, state Republicans called the proposal an election-year gimmick, calling instead for permanent tax cuts.
At a morning press conference, the governor and House Speaker Melissa Hortman detailed the plan to return roughly $4 billion of the state's historic budget surplus back to Minnesotans in the form of direct payments, which would go to an estimated 2.7 million households.
Under the plan, single tax filers making up to $164,000 a year would get $1,000 checks while couples earning up to $273,470 would get $2,000 checks.
"This is the right thing to do for Minnesotans as we see household costs rise," Walz said, in a statement. "Minnesota has a strong economy and historic surplus, and this is one big way we can help Minnesotans at the pump, grocery store, and with rent. Senate Republicans should not sit on billions of dollars while Minnesotans struggle to afford the things they need."
This revamped and enhanced version of the so-called "Walz checks" comes after talks between Minnesota lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, leaving about $7.2 billion of an original $9.2 budget surplus unspent. The collapse in negotiations scrapped what would have been a historic $4 billion tax cut, which could have eliminated all taxes on social security income.
Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller said that he and his fellow Senate Republicans simply couldn't agree to the rest of the DFL spending plan, which included billions for education and health care, and nearly $500 million for public safety.
"At the end of the day, the spending priorities were just different between Republicans and Democrats, and ultimately, and unfortunately, we could not reach an agreement," Miller told
Instead of the one-time checks, Miller and Republicans want the surplus spent on permanent tax cuts, which he says could save couples and individual tax filers $1,000 and $500 each year, respectively.
"Instead of just getting it one time, Minnesotans will have more money in their paychecks every single week, every single month, year after year," Miller said.
Walz, who expressed disappointment and frustration over the impasse reached last week, has accused Republicans of playing election-year politics. It's a charge that Republicans are also hurling at the governor.
"I have compromised, compromised, compromised," Walz told WCCO. "I'm just saying ... I don't understand the gimmick on that. People are hurting, they need the money."
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) said Wednesday that the governor sees himself in trouble in the upcoming election, saying that his latest proposal for one-time checks is "nothing more than election year desperation."
Walz is up for reelection in November, as is the entire state legislature. Walz is facing Dr. Scott Jensen, a former state senator who has been critical of Minnesota's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a statement Wednesday, Jensen called Walz's plan to send direct checks to Minnesotans a "vote-buying gimmick," highlighting that some of money might go to non-taxpayers.
"When I'm governor, I'll give the whole surplus back and more; not through a one-time gimmick that will only further exacerbate inflation, but through a responsible, long-term approach that will provide ongoing financial relief to hardworking Minnesota families," Jensen said. "Just like you can't trust an arsonist to put out a fire, you can't trust Tim Walz and his Democrat pals to solve the inflation problem they helped create."
Still, the governor and Democratic leaders say they are ready to work and find compromises on a potential deal, which would need to be passed in a special session.
"We need Minnesota Republicans to leave election-year politics to the side, come back to the table, and join us in getting this work done so we can help Minnesotans," Hortman, the House speaker, said in a statement.
Rep. Paul Marquart (DFL-Dilworth), the chair of the House Tax Committee, said Wednesday that he supports getting checks into Minnesotans' hands sooner than later, adding that "direct checks are a great way to help Minnesotans with rising prices."
Voters that WCCO-TV spoke with on Wednesday in St. Paul and Chaska said they wanted the immediate relief from the checks, as they are dealing with raising prices on groceries, housing and gas.
Walz has pushed several times to use the budget surplus on rebate checks, which his office initially referred to as "Walz checks." With each of his three proposals this legislative session, the amounts have gotten bigger. Before the latest increase, the amounts were $500 for individuals and $1,000 for couples.
During the legislative session, Walz stood alone in his call for rebate checks, as the DFL-controlled House was not on board. That changed in recent weeks, and now DFL lawmakers in the House are calling for immediate relief for Minnesotans.
"In January, we did not expect that inflation would last this long," Hortman said, explaining her change of mind.
For any money to return to taxpayers, the DFL-controlled House, the Republican-controlled Senate and the governor would all have to agree on a deal. With no sign of an agreement on the horizon, Walz says he won't call lawmakers back to the Capitol for a special session.
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