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Gov. Tim Walz's pitch for budget surplus includes $350 checks to Minnesotans

Gov. Tim Walz rolled out his first priorities for the state's budget surplus on Thursday, Jan. 20, prompting blowback from Republicans.

Gov. Tim Walz - Minneapolis
Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022, announced his plan for spending part of the state's projected $7.75 billion budget surplus during a news conference at Minneapolis Community College.
Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service
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MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota households could be eligible for up to $350 direct payments, and front-line workers that stayed on the job during the pandemic could receive an extra $1,500 this year, under a plan that Gov. Tim Walz put forth Thursday, Jan. 20.

The Democratic-Farmer-Labor governor said Minnesotans should benefit from the state's $7.75 billion budget surplus. And as part of his plan for the funds, more than $4 billion would go toward direct payments, worker recruitment and retention programs, grants for farmers and broadband expansion.

Walz rolled out his ideas for the surplus during a Thursday news conference at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. And he said Minnesotans, the state's greatest asset, should reap the benefits of the state's strong financial position.

"This is about expanding an already vibrant economy, it's about making sure we're lifting up those were hurt hardest during the pandemic and it's making sure there's a long-range vision about where Minnesota's going," Walz said, "and we're well positioned to do that."

Lawmakers in the divided Statehouse have split over the best way to spend the projected budget surplus and will likely spend months debating how the state ought to use it.

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Walz said he would propose three uses for the funds:

  • economic opportunities
  • helping kids and families
  • advancing health and safety

Ultimately, it will be up to legislators to decide which ideas move forward. Republicans, who control the Senate, and Democrats, who lead the House of Representatives, are set to unveil their priorities for the budget surplus over the next week.
Republican lawmakers on Thursday said they appreciated Walz's proposal to spend $2.7 billion to repay the federal government and replenish the state's unemployment trust fund. If lawmakers don't act, businesses would see a payroll tax increase to cover it.

But they said the proposal to send out checks of up to $350 to people who make $164,400 or less was a political move.

“Walz checks are nothing more than an election year gimmick, and it will barely cover the inflationary costs of everyday necessities," Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, said. "We’ll propose permanent, ongoing, targeted tax relief for working Minnesotans so they see savings every single year."

While they agreed to spend $250 million to pay out to front-line workers over the summer, efforts to decide who should get the checks fell short this fall. And unrelated issues prevented a $10 million drought relief package for farmers from passing through the Capitol.

Walz urged lawmakers to put those financial supports first when they return to the Capitol on Jan. 31.

"Minnesotans want results," he said.

House Democrats earlier in the day said they'd prioritize hero pay for front-line workers, state programs for paid family leave, as well as earned sick and safe time, broadband expansion and affordable housing as the best uses for the surplus money.

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And they said they were hopeful that having a $7.75 billion excess would allow more of their goals to get across the finish line this year.

"I think the existence of the surplus makes a huge difference in the practical reality of getting something like this proposal done," said House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park.

While the DFL-led House has put forward and passed paid family leave and earned sick and safe time before, the GOP-controlled Senate hasn't supported the proposals.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce said the paid family leave program could stunt future economic growth and undermine the benefits of having the state cover the cost for the state's unemployment insurance trust fund.

MORE FROM DANA FERGUSON:

Related Topics: TIM WALZ
Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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