Gov. Tim Walz wants to provide money to local governments to come up with programs to fight crime, give Minnesotans the ability to buy in to the MinnesotaCare health insurance program and increase grants for people trying to find housing.
Those are just some of the elements in the latest portion of the budget proposal Walz released Monday. Some are familiar — including the public safety plan and the MinnesotaCare buy-in —because he has proposed them in the past and couldn't get them through the Republican-controlled Senate.
With DFL majorities in the House and Senate they could have a better chance to become law this year, but lawmakers will debate the governor’s plans for months before enacting a final budget for the next two years.
The public safety piece would distribute $300 million to cities, counties and tribal governments for them to use to adopt public safety initiatives. Walz made the same proposal last year as a spike in violent crime was becoming a campaign issue, but the Legislature adjourned without agreeing on a plan.
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Republicans had pushed for more funding directly to police departments and for money to recruit more police officers.
Local governments are better positioned to work on their own plans than to have them dictated from the state, Walz said.
“This proposal will make sure that communities have what they need,” Walz said during a news conference at a Roseville fire station. “We get to sleep easy at night knowing that if we dial 911 professionals will be there and they will be there quickly. But as the chief said, that doesn't come without a cost. And we have a responsibility to make sure that the equipment, the training, the personnel, and everything that makes that happen is there for those folks.”
Walz is also calling for a number of new laws on guns, including expanding background checks for gun purchases, the ability to temporarily remove firearms from people determined to pose a danger to themselves or others, raising the age to buy a military-style semi-automatic rifle to 21 and banning high capacity magazines. He also proposes nearly $5 million for local law enforcement agencies to buy body cameras.
“We're going to finally tackle this issue around some common sense gun things, making sure we have family members have access to red flag laws, making sure we're doing serious background checks,” Walz said. “There's just no darn reason that we should have handguns in recreation centers, there's no reason we should have handguns in the state Capitol. Those are things that we can do that will help that.”
Republicans said the proposed funding failed to meet the current moment.
“At a time when Minnesota is facing unprecedented levels of crime, the governor’s public safety proposal comes up dramatically short,” House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, said in a statement. “The $300 million of public safety aid proposed by the governor is a fraction of the total budget and demonstrates where the governor’s priorities are.”
On the MinnesotaCare buy-in, Walz said it would offer more affordable health insurance to the remaining 300,000 Minnesotans who lack coverage. Walz also proposed expanding state-backed health programs for children and filling gaps in mental health care coverage for children and adolescents.
Health care access advocates said the changes could take a step in ensuring that people of color, Indigenous people and low-income Minnesotans are able to access affordable health care. And that’s important, they said, since those groups bore the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“These investments will help narrow our state's harmful disparities and health,”said Michelle SanCartier, a director with the Minnesota Social Service Association. “Overall, this budget proposal represents investments across the spectrum of health care and supports, addressing specific needs while strengthening health care for everyone.”
The governor also proposed leveraging $100 million in other funding to acquire and rehabilitate affordable housing stock. He also proposed a new grant program to help first-time homeowners afford down payments and closing costs. And he wants to continue work to find housing for veterans who have no place to live.
Housing Commissioner Jennifer Ho said the proposed $1.5 billion spend on housing initiatives over the next four years would allow the state to “go big” in addressing affordability and helping homeless people find shelter.
“Four years ago, we were talking about going big, this is what going big looks like,” Ho said. “I think the most important message is that with a budget surplus like this, and with a commitment to housing, like the governor and lieutenant governor have, we're able to make significant investments across the whole housing continuum.”
Walz is set to unveil the fourth and final chapter of his budget pitch on Thursday, complete with plans for taxpayer rebate checks, additional funding for local governments and a roll back on the state tax on Social Security benefits.
Lawmakers will review the governor’s plans and put up spending proposals of their own after the state gets an updated economic outlook next month.