Even if you’re a fiscal conservative who believes in small government, limited government spending and low taxes, you wouldn’t necessarily go on auto-pilot and accuse new Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, of being just another tax-and-spend liberal, after some early budget proposals Walz floated in remarks to a big Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities gathering last week.
Acknowledging that he was speaking in front of a friendly audience and, therefore, “preaching to the choir” – the CGMC, after all, is a huge advocate for increased state investments in parts of the state located outside the Twin Cities and surrounding metro area – Walz had to leave the podium feeling pretty good.
And why not? The investments he said he’s hoping to include in the state’s next biennial budget at this early stage don’t appear to be exactly outlandish:
• He wants to boost Local Government Aid (LGA) funding by $30.5 million in each of the two budget years. It’s not a wacky notion, considering that LGA spending, since the program was turned on its head more than 15 years ago, still has not returned to funding levels seen prior to 2003. There’s a major local angle here, too, since there might not be another city in Minnesota with a budget that leans more on LGA than Crookston. LGA keeps the local property tax burden manageable.
• Walz also wants to bring broadband-level internet speeds to all of rural Minnesota in the next two years. He called that particular goal a “moonshot,” but what’s so pipe-dreamy about expanding and speeding up internet infrastructure across all of Minnesota? It’s the internet; everyone everywhere, if you want any real shot at relevancy and/or success, needs it at broadband performance levels.
• The governor wants to change the way public schools are funded in Minnesota, with the resulting model being more equitable for districts no matter what part of the state they’re located in. While Walz acknowledged that such ambitious reforms would likely take more than a single two-year budget cycle, who wouldn’t give a serious look at reform that seeks to reduce or even eliminate what has become the necessary, and all-too frequently utilized budgetary tool in school districts across the state, the ballot referendum?
With a state budget of around $50 billion in addition to a projected surplus, Walz said he knows he’s not going to get what he wants without making some sacrifices, meaning some things could find themselves on the chopping block if that’s the compromise necessary in exchange for Walz getting some of the things he wants.
So that debate could be rough. And it’ll get even rougher when Walz starts pushing for a gas tax increase to help fund needed transportation projects across the state. Walz enjoys a Democratic majority in the House only, after all; Republicans run the Minnesota Senate, and raising taxes of any kind really isn’t their thing.
This is Walz’s honeymoon period, so he might as well shoot for the moon, even if what he’s previewing in his ideal budget doesn’t come close to amounting to foolhardy spending.