Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

Gov. Tim Walz on the work wrapping up around the Capitol

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"The bottom line is that we're going to see life become a little more affordable for folks; we're going to see targeting on what we know is reducing child poverty. The child tax credit that's in here, is not just nascent leading, it's global leading of what it will do," Gov. Tim Walz said in an MPR News interview.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

The Minnesota Legislature is getting closer to adjournment with final votes on some big bills left to be taken before next week.

You may have noticed the words “transformative” and “historic” being used a lot by DFL lawmakers and leaders when describing the amounts of money being spent, on items like education or on new programs like a paid family and medical leave effort.

Republicans, on the other hand, say Democrats are passing extremely liberal measures without adequate input from them or the public.

Gov. Tim Walz joined Cathy Wurzer with a view on what to expect in the final stretch of the session and beyond.

The following is a transcript of the interview, edited for clarity. Listen to the full conversation with the audio player above.

The K-12 education bill is coming your way for your signature after passing the Senate this morning. This is a historic amount of money that's going to be spent on schools and future increases will be tied to inflation.

After years and years of schools and teachers saying they're underfunded, does this bill fully fund K-12 education in Minnesota?

I think it gets awful close. We're certainly proud of it. I know we've made this whole session about making Minnesota the best place for children and family. Whether it's making sure they have meals to eat, whether it's making sure those families get a little more money back in their pocket to take care of these kids.

I think this ensures that Minnesota schools — as they've always been — remained some of the best in the country. It provides some certainty for the administration's going forward. And for those communities to not be so dependent on these, these bonding referendums, which create the haves and have-nots.

And then there's transformative work in here around literacy. There's transformative work around making sure we're hiring a diverse teaching force. We're going to need them first and foremost. But we know the research shows that if students see folks that look like themselves and have their shared experiences, they do better. So I'm excited about it. I'm excited as a parent of a public school high school student, I'm excited as a teacher of what it can do.

The tax bill is still being worked on. It appears a number of Minnesotans will get a $250 check from the state which is getting an underwhelming reaction from Republicans, given the expectations you set for a larger rebate.

Aren't these checks a bit of a disappointment?

They say it was a political gimmick last year when they didn't want to do anything.

And we should say your DFL friends in the House and Senate were kind of cool to the idea, too.

They were. And I think Minnesotans … look, a family of four can get up to $1,300. But I think coupled with a billion dollars of property tax reduction in here, there's a lot of renter's credit that goes into there. So there's going to be $6.6 billion worth of tax cuts in there aim mostly clearly at the middle class and the working class folks.

So yeah, this was one way to get it out there. There's a lot of other ways we're going to see reductions in property tax I said across the state. They added in child dependents for that. I think I would want it a little more. But this is about give and take.

The bottom line is that we're going to see life become a little more affordable for folks; we're going to see targeting on what we know is reducing child poverty. The child tax credit that's in here, is not just nascent leading, it's global leading of what it will do.

It is going to draw the attention of countries around the world because of the impact that the research shows it's going to have on childhood poverty. And if you want to talk about long-term savings, that is long-term savings in less interventions that we need better achievement in education, less interventions into the criminal justice system, it's all coupled together.

Yesterday, we did lead lines, which we know will improve the health of Minnesotans. These are just really good investments to make Minnesota safer, healthier, more productive and a place where people want to live.

So you're focusing a lot on kids, as you said.

I'm wondering about existing senior Minnesotans who can't find home health care or in nursing homes or assisted living centers that are woefully understaffed?

Yeah, we need to make sure that that's a profession we value and I'm glad earlier in the year with personal care attendants, we finally got them a wage of $20. I think the investments we made, we had a 10 percent increase in reimbursements across the board, put in hundreds of millions of dollars.

But we still need to make the case that if we're going to ask people to work in these professions, they certainly didn't expect to get rich doing it but they can't take an oath of poverty. We think the things we've done around childcare make that more affordable for folks. We think some of these rebates coming back to folks — the child tax credit — a lot of these folks are women coming from communities of color. And this is aimed at that. So we get people off the sideline.

The number one issue amongst businesses is of course long-term workforce needs and shortages on that. We need to make sure that we're getting everyone we can off the sidelines which Minnesota has very few. We have the second-highest labor participation rate in the country. But we're making ourselves a destination for folks to come. So there's a lot in here and of course, there's going to be a significant reduction of Social Security tax. 80 percent of folks will see nothing and 93 percent will see a significant reduction.

Speaking of money, there's a lot of money for transportation in this budget, but MnDOT says it still needs a lot more money to fully fix roads and bridges. And there's the 75-cent fee on pizza deliveries and Amazon packages and that kind of thing.

You were not a cheerleader for that idea. So are you on board with it?

I'm on board with whatever it takes to get this funding. And I think they need to make sure there are exemptions, I'm very clear, for medicines for … formula coming to you that folks. But look, these are trucks that are driving on our roads.

Again, I stress this statistic until I hope every Minnesota knows it: We have the fourth highest amount of road miles in the country, California, Texas, Illinois and us. Look at the per capita of what it costs on this, this modern transportation system makes us the most one of the most diverse economies and one of the most productive economies. But it takes upkeep and we've had a frozen gas tax. I tried that route. It wasn't there.

Folks who came before us pay for these roads, they paid for these bridges. And this one-time money doesn't look into the 25-year planning phase that MnDOT’s talking about to upkeep the roads and to build out. So I did not agree with that method of doing it, but I certainly support it if that's what the Legislature agrees to.

Because in the long term, we have got to make these investments. And I think most people, when they pay their taxes, they want to make sure they're fair, and they want to make sure they're getting the best bang for their buck. They want to see what it does. And I can tell you there's nothing that makes people happier than seeing the potholes fixed in front of her house, seeing traffic congestion be reduced.

This is just a way to make it happen. It's courageous. I mean, you can't be the Republicans and say, “Well, we're not going to do anything and go home,” while their constituents don't have a water treatment plant, don't have the new bridge don't have the new roads, because you got to figure out how to pay for it. And this one is very specific. It's targeted money.

You mentioned water treatment programs that usually comes under a bonding bill.

Is there a bonding deal with Republicans?

No, no. Last night they, once again, the demands were that checks be sent back to every single Minnesotan, meaning that the very richest Minnesotans needed to get a check. Or they wouldn’t agree to do a bonding bill that is unanimously … I mean, almost … what it passed a supermajority.

I applaud the Republicans in the House who said, “Look, these are our tax dollars, it makes sense to do this.” Our bond ratings and the future of Minnesota depends on us upkeeping our infrastructure, they voted for it in the supermajority that was needed. And Senate Republicans who walked away last May from a deal thinking they were going to win an election and do it their way, are now playing games with this.

But here's the good news: I'll take the heat by voting for it and doing the spending that's necessary to build the water treatment plant to make sure that either Mankato or wherever it's at, get what they need to get done, because that's what good governance does. So very, very disappointing to me. This has always been bipartisan, this has always been highly bought into Republicans in the House were fantastic in helping lead this. They understood this smart policy. It's fiscally conservative, and you have politics being played in the Senate again.

So no, they sent it over last night. I haven't got a chance, I guess maybe they can hear it on here. But we're not giving tax cuts to a billionaire. So that we can do something that all of us agree needs to get done.

There's a good deal of controversy over a bill that would create committees of hospital administrators and nurses to determine staffing levels. Now the nurses union, big supporters of yours, have been pushing this for a while.

Hospitals, especially rural hospitals, say this could lead to major disruptions of patient care. Mayo Clinic, as folks have heard of, has threatened to pull billions of investments out of the state of this bill passes.

Why is it good public policy to allow one hospital system to be exempted when other smaller rural hospitals won't get the same consideration?

Look, politics does this. Our nurses were absolutely critical in the care that they gave both during COVID and after. They're one of the most valued and beloved professions. And they're telling us that they're in crisis, I believe them.

I also worked hand in hand and it was those hospital administrators and the professionals who helped make Minnesota one of the safest states during COVID, making sure we didn't go on their system. So it's not an us versus them.

One of the issues is how you do staffing, the acuity systems that Mayo uses is there. I do think that there's possibilities for us to reach a compromise where we take into consideration the nurses’ concerns about overstaffing about what they feel are dangerous situations, using what we already have.

What I've said about Mayo is and I represented the area of Rochester for 12 years in Congress, I'm very familiar with Mayo, they do things a little bit differently. And I'm not saying that as a pejorative or as positive rated very highly, but their clientele is a little bit different.

With that being said, we're out allows the nurses to feel safe and secure and feel like they're having a say in this but listening to the administrator so I think the discussion is a good one. I hope though that the public, this is not and we can't set this up that this is nurses versus hospitals because we're all in it together and they both have done incredible work over very challenging for years.

Do you think this there will be a bill coming out of session on this?

What are the state of negotiations as you know it?

They're fluid. And we're gonna finish on time. I think you know, it's graduation season. So I think we might have to take a little break Saturday. It's important for folks to be with their family. I had that wonderful experience last Saturday.

But we'll get done on Monday. So I know deep negotiations last night, I left the Capitol around midnight, and they were still discussing. I do think there's something that needs to be done to get there. And I take very seriously as they said, both sides on this and very valid points.

Listen to the full conversation with the audio player above.

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