‘We can do that’: Walz calls for compromise, action on big issues during State of the State

By: and - April 25, 2022 6:01 am

Gov. Tim Walz gave his fourth State of the State address on April 24, 2022. It was the first State of the State held in the House chamber since the beginning of the pandemic.

Facing one of the most challenging periods of his political career, Gov. Tim Walz returned to his political roots during his State of the State address Sunday, pitching a pragmatic, optimistic call for compromise to the center of the Minnesota electorate. 

Walz, giving his first State of the State address in the House chamber since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, ran down the list of big challenges facing Minnesota — child care, education, public safety — and answered them with a common refrain: “We can do that.”

Walz positioned himself in the middle of the DFL-controlled House, which wants to spend more on child care, education and other programs, and the GOP-majority Senate, which wants to cut taxes. Walz said they should do both, and he called on lawmakers to find common ground. 

“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 a reality. That is democracy. That’s the way this is, but we owe it to the people of Minnesota to try and find common ground.”

Walz also called on Democrats and Republicans to compromise on an issue that has thus far stymied them: Giving essential workers in fields like health care, meatpacking and prisons hazard pay for their work during the pandemic, and refilling the unemployment insurance trust fund to prevent a tax increase on businesses. Democrats’ priority is the former, while Republicans are most eager to do the latter. Walz implored them to make a deal.  

Despite his usual optimism, Walz’s fourth State of the State address comes at a perilous political moment for the first-term DFL governor. He’s working to get a sweeping package of budget proposals through a divided Legislature, with the end of the regular session just weeks away — and Election Day looming in the minds of both lawmakers and voters.

The president’s party tends to lose state and congressional seats in midterm elections, and other political obstacles like the ongoing pandemic and rising inflation are setting Democrats nationwide up for an especially difficult campaign season — Walz included.

This November will be voters’ first opportunity to judge his tumultuous first term, which has featured a string of crises: the police murder of George Floyd and ensuing unrest, hospitals overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients, school buildings closed for months, surging violent crime.

Here’s what he had to say on two key issues:

Education

Walz pushed legislators to use Minnesota’s projected $9.3 billion budget surplus to boost funding for child care, early education and K-12 education, pitching increased spending as beneficial for children and families but also as long-term investments in the state’s economy.

Even before 2020, child care providers said staying afloat was a challenge, and parents described finding affordable care as a nightmarish task. The pandemic exacerbated these issues and sent the industry into a full-blown crisis.

Walz and House Democrats propose pouring millions into early childhood education programs for low-income families and stabilization grants for providers, while Republicans say they’re hoping to reduce providers’ workload by streamlining regulations.

“With the number of (parents) — especially women — who have to leave the workforce over this issue, and the number of providers who can’t make the economic numbers work, we have a responsibility,” Walz said. “Business is asking us to work on this, and we have a lot of bipartisan support to build the workforce behind the workforce.”

Walz also said the surplus gives the state the opportunity to “fully fund” public schools, seemingly referring to proposals to spend hundreds of millions of dollars more on special education and English language learner services. Schools don’t receive enough federal or state funds to cover the costs of providing services required under law, forcing districts to take on the costs themselves.

He said Minnesota has a “moral imperative” to address the state’s worst-in-the-nation racial disparities in education — and also an economic need. 

“We’re going to have to create that workforce of the future, and no one can be left on the sideline,” Walz said.

The Senate GOP education bill includes almost no new money for schools.  

‘Walz checks’

Walz reiterated his calls for lawmakers to spend some of the surplus on “immediate relief” for taxpayers, referencing his plan to send Minnesotans direct payments of up to $1,000. Neither the House nor Senate included the tax refunds in their tax bills, but Walz’s commitment to the idea hasn’t seemed to waiver.

“We should use some of this historic surplus — a big piece of it — to put money back in the pockets of working Minnesotans,” he said. “I believe one of the quickest, surest and fiscally responsible ways is to do that right now.”

He also expressed willingness to “compromise” and implement some tax cuts as well, which have been a major Republican priority. The GOP’s proposal has been criticized as regressive, however, and would disproportionately benefit the state’s highest earners. 

“I want to be clear about this: We can cut taxes for the middle class, without cutting taxes for massive corporations and the wealthiest people in Minnesota,” Walz said.

Republicans have proposed cutting the first-tier income tax rate from 5.35% to 2.8%, as well as eliminating taxes on Social Security benefits. 

GOP response

Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, shared the Senate Republicans’ State of the State in a four-minute video ahead of Walz’s address Sunday. Miller highlighted several Senate GOP policy priorities in education, public safety and taxes, calling on Democrats to “join us in our efforts to get good things done for the people of the state of Minnesota.”

The Senate GOP introduced a slate of education bills known as the Parents’ Bill of Rights this session that they say is aimed at giving parents more information and control over public education. Democrats and the teachers union oppose the bills, arguing they’re redundant and too burdensome for teachers. 

Republicans hope to address rising violent crime statewide with proposals to increase penalties for repeat offenders and increase funding to hire more police officers. 

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Rilyn Eischens
Rilyn Eischens

Rilyn Eischens is a former data reporter for the Minnesota Reformer. Rilyn was born and raised in Minnesota and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.

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J. Patrick Coolican
J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican is Editor-in-Chief of Minnesota Reformer. Previously, he was a Capitol reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune for five years, after a Knight-Wallace Fellowship at the University of Michigan and time at the Las Vegas Sun, Seattle Times and a few other stops along the way. He lives in St. Paul with his wife and two young children

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