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Gov. Walz adds housing, public safety, health care public option to growing budget list

Gov. Tim Walz wrapped up a week of previewing his budget priorities Monday by visiting a Roseville fire station to highlight spending plans for health, housing and public safety.

Walz’s latest proposals include money to fight crime, make housing more affordable and give lower-income residents a public option to buy health insurance. Altogether, it would add about $2.3 billion to the next two-year budget.

The Democratic governor’s full budget proposal will be released Tuesday. It will include at least $14 billion worth of new spending that will come from the state’s historic $17.6 billion budget surplus.

“We have the capacity with this surplus, to put money back in their pockets, to improve schools, to improve access to health care, to improve public safety, all at the same time reducing the costs of life for middle-class Minnesotans,” Walz said during a visit to the fire station with Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan and staff.

Spending plans

Walz has already introduced new spending plans focused on things like tax breaks, affordable child care, school funding, help to businesses and workers, the environment and agriculture.

Gov. Tim Walz speaks at a podium at a Roseville fire station.
Gov. Tim Walz discusses the health, housing and safety pieces of his budget proposal Monday, Jan. 23, 2023 at a Roseville fire station as Fire Chief David Brosnahan, left, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan and staff look on. (Christopher Magan – Pioneer Press)

Democrats have narrow control of both the Minnesota House and Senate so Walz is likely to get a lot of what he wants in the next state budget that’s due at the end of May.

So far, Republicans, now in the minority in both chambers, have criticized Walz’s plans as too much new spending and having too few tax cuts. GOP leaders plan to respond to the governor’s full budget plans after it is released Tuesday afternoon.

Of the proposals Walz announced Monday, the biggest piece was about $1 billion in the coming biennium for affordable housing. It includes grants and aid to add affordable homes, keep rent costs down and address homelessness.

“Everyone in Minnesota deserves to feel safe, protected and valued, no matter where they live,” said Flanagan, who noted her family used public housing vouchers when she was a kid.

Public safety programs

Walz also has earmarked about $700 million for public safety programs, including $300 million for local communities to hire and retain staff. There’s also about $185 million for criminal justice reforms.

Crime was a top issue during the fall campaign and an ongoing point of contention between Democrats and Republicans. The GOP has pushed for more cops and tougher penalties while Democrats also want crime prevention programs.

“This proposal makes sure communities have what they need,” Walz said. “To make sure Minnesota is a safe place for all.”

Part of that, the governor noted, was passing what he called “common sense” gun reform measures including universal background checks and red flag laws that make it easier to take weapons from people who are deemed dangerous. Walz also expressed support for other gun reforms.

“There’s no reason we should have handguns in recreational centers,” he said. “There’s no reason we should have handguns in the state Capitol.”

House Minority Leader Rep. Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, said the governor’s proposed $300 million in local public safety funding was too small.

“We need to be focused on getting dangerous criminals off the streets and making sure we are investing adequately in local law enforcement so they have the tools they need to investigate and prevent crimes,” Demuth said in a statement.

Expanded access to MinnesotaCare

Walz’s spending plan includes something that has long been a wish of Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party members — creating a public option for lower-income residents to purchase health insurance.

The proposal would expand access to MinnesotaCare, which essentially uses the framework of Medicaid to provide low-cost health care. Hospitals and health systems have opposed the idea in the past because of the low reimbursement rates the government pays for services.

Walz acknowledged the challenges with reimbursement rates and said he would work to win over health care providers, noting that expanding access should help hospitals save money long-term on emergency care.

After Walz details his budget Tuesday, committees in the House and Senate will delve into the specifics of his spending plans while also developing proposals of their own. All of those differences need to be worked out before the end of May for the next state budget, which was on track to hit $54 billion before any changes were made.

“We have the capacity in Minnesota to make this the best state,” Walz said. “I’m excited about the possibilities.”

Gov. Walz adds housing, public safety, health care public option to growing budget list

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