Gov. Tim Walz’s first budget is a document of vision and breadth.
It aims high and many of its goals will resonate with Minnesotans who want a state with quality education for all; health care that is high-quality, available and affordable; smooth roads, sturdy bridges and urban transit vital to moving goods and people efficiently; targeted tax relief and innovations such as statewide broadband that will help rural Minnesota prosper.
It comes with a big price tag, however. Too big, in the Star Tribune Editorial Board’s view. Spending would rise by more than $2 billion and taxes by at least $1.2 billion, substantially more if the state extends a health care provider tax that sunsets at the end of 2019.
Road and bridge improvements would be funded by a 20-cent-a-gallon gas tax increase. That would take Minnesota’s current 28-cent-a-gallon state gas tax from one of the lowest in the Midwest to one of the highest in the nation. Atop that would come license tab fee increases and a 1/8-cent seven-county metro sales tax increase for transit.
Schools would get a $730 million funding bump, with money to hire more diverse teachers, offset special ed mandates, continue prekindergarten services and provide wraparound services to homeless and needy children.
On health care, Walz would provide cost relief to all consumers who buy on the individual market. A public buy-in option would broaden coverage. Walz would create a new model for dental benefits, to aid the many Minnesotans who suffer from lack of dental care.
On higher education, lower-income students would see increased grants to better afford college or other postsecondary training.
Much of Walz’s budget is aimed at making good on his “One Minnesota” theme by equalizing services and opportunities across urban and rural areas. That includes better child-care assistance, workforce housing and statewide broadband. He is frank about orienting tax cuts toward families, small businesses and farmers, using higher taxes and loophole closures on larger businesses that he said benefited from the federal tax cuts.
Of the $440 million in proposed tax relief, half would go to farmers and smaller businesses. Individuals, meanwhile, would get to keep the deductions they lost at the federal level, and 46,000 households would see lower taxes through an expanded working family tax credit.
It is a menu so rich in options as to be a bit overwhelming. Many of the ideas deserve serious discussion and evaluation. Minnesotans elected Walz for his vision, and while they are generous, they want value in return, and even generosity has its limits. Walz now must make the case that the money he asks Minnesotans to yield to the state will be carefully spent, with safeguards against waste, with clear objectives and with provable results.
Republican leaders who attended Walz’s budget release were taken aback by its scope. It is hoped that instead of hot rhetoric and rejection, they instead will come back with better proposals of their own, while rigorously testing the soundness of Walz’s ideas. That is how opposing parties can work to produce better governance for their citizens.
Additionally, there are possible clouds on the economic horizon. Another state economic forecast is due soon, and the indicators are less than optimal. Continued trade wars have taken a toll on the economy. The nation is overdue for a recession.
Whatever changes Walz makes must be sustainable. Good leadership requires vision, but it also sets priorities and makes difficult choices. Walz will have to make many as his budget proceeds to a divided Legislature.