Walz adds money to budget for public safety, lead removal

Published 4:36 pm Thursday, March 16, 2023

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ST. PAUL — Gov. Tim Walz updated his budget proposal Thursday by nearly doubling his request for public safety aid for cities, counties and tribal governments to $550 million, building on a budget forecast last month that showed Minnesota’s budget surplus holding relatively steady at $17.5 billion.

Altogether, the Democratic governor added nearly $1.2 billion to the $65 billion two-year budget he proposed in January. Communities could decide for themselves how to use the additional public safety money, which would be distributed according to population. They could use it for hiring more officers, buying equipment and other strategies to reduce crime, he said.

“We think that this is the budget for Minnesota’s future,” Walz said at a news conference. “We believe it’s a budget that serves all corners of the state. We think it’s a budget that addresses the issues that Minnesotans are most concerned about.”

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Walz also added $240 million to help pay for the replacement of lead pipes connecting homes to water systems across the state.

He expanded his proposal to help communities fight opioid addiction by $160 million to $220 million. Walz also proposed a $2,500 tax credit for purchasers of new electric vehicles that would piggyback on top of federal credits to raise the savings up to a potential $10,000. And he added an extra $96 million for higher education.

The governor’s updated budget proposal reflects a jump in state efforts to get lead out of drinking water. Replacing lead service lines at homes statewide would cost around $1 billion, Lt. Gov Peggy Flanagan said, adding that communities across the state have been “loud and clear” that they need help. So the budget now includes $90 million for the state health department to study where lead pipes exist across the state, she said. Walz said more funding will be proposed in coming years to fix the problem.

Walz acknowledged that his revised budget is bound to get changed as the Legislature weighs in with its own proposals. He said he is ready to discuss compromises.

As he spoke, a skirmish played out on the Senate floor, where a Democratic effort to pass a $1.9 billion public works borrowing package known as a bonding bill that passed the House last week failed to get the necessary Republican votes to provide the required 60% supermajority. The governor’s original proposal included nearly $2.2 billion borrowing plus nearly $900 million in cash. The House-passed package also included $400 million in cash.

Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, of East Grand Forks, reiterated afterward that the price for Republican votes will be some kind of tax relief. They are willing to negotiate the details, he said, but there has been no agreement so far. Walz’s budget proposes $5.4 billion worth of tax cuts, including rebate checks, expanded tax credits for families, and a reduction in taxes on Social Security income.