ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Gov. Tim Walz appealed for unity in Minnesota’s divided legislature during his fourth State of the State address Sunday, the first time he delivered the annual speech at the Capitol since the pandemic began.
“We may not agree on everything. And if we’re being totally honest, some of us won’t agree on anything,” Walz said. “That is the reality. That is a democracy. That’s the way some of this is, but we owe it to the people of Minnesota to try and find common ground.”
It was his fourth address, but the first since 2019 with COVID-19 upending the tradition of speaking from the House chamber. In 2020, he spoke from the governor’s residence and in 2021, he was in a classroom at Mankato West High School, where he once was a teacher.
At the capitol, lawmakers were mostly maskless as legislative business begins to return to normal with more in-person meetings, marking a turning point in the pandemic.
The governor noted the difficulties of the last two years and touted progress. He said the state of the state is “strong and moving forward” as the budget reserves “hit record highs and our COVID infections and hospitalizations that are at record lows.”
Lawmakers have one month left of session to sort out their differences on public safety, education and taxes. How to spend more than $9 billion in a budget surplus is the backdrop for the whole debate.
Walz asked Republicans and Democrats to find compromise in session’s final weeks.
“Each of us in the divided legislature during some of the most divisive and hateful times we’ve seen in our politics, we’ve all figured out a way to find some solutions to some issues — hasn’t always made you happy, hasn’t always made any of that, but Minnesotans are seeing the fruits of that,” he said.
Walz pushed Republicans and Democrats to end a months-long stalemate over frontline worker bonus checks and refilling the unemployment trust fund depleted during the pandemic to spare businesses a tax hike.
A compromise on those two priorities have been at a standstill for months as the issues have become intertwined during negotiations. Democrats have pushed for more money for frontline workers while Republicans have balked at any figure greater than the $250 million set aside last year; they want more for the jobless claims fund than Democrats have proposed.
“We have a couple of things that fit together, a couple of things that serve Minnesotans. We have the resources to do it, and we can move Minnesota forward in a bipartisan manner,” Walz said. “So I would ask if we’re getting close to a compromise on this let’s finish this deal and let’s finish it now.”
DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman wouldn’t give details, but hinted that lawmakers would be able to pass a bill funding unemployment insurance before April 30, when businesses’ quarterly tax payments are due.
“I’ve had a number of very productive conversations with Sen. Miller and the governor about these issues and I remain hopeful we will get a solution before April 30,” Hortman said.
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said he hoped the governor would push harder for Democrats to move on the UI trust fund and “show some leadership” on the issue.
“Tonight the governor literally referred to that as a tax increase on Minnesota employers. That’s what it is. If that doesn’t happen, Democrats will be forcing a tax increase at a time when our state has an almost $10 billion surplus,” Daudt said. “It’s inexcusable and shows a lack of leadership.”
Walz also lobbied the legislature to pass parts of his policy priorities, which include one-time rebate “Walz checks” of $500 per individual and $1,000 per married couple; child care investments; more money for education; $300 million in local government aid to address public safety and more. The “Walz checks” did not make the cut in both Republicans’ and Democrats’ tax proposals.
Walz is set to campaign for another four years in office in a general election fight that should take shape this summer. Several Republicans are running to unseat him.
The session ends on May 23.
Source: CBS Minnesota