Gov. Tim Walz's first spending proposal includes a $700,000 increase in his office budget to hire more staff to field questions and concerns from Minnesotans.
The Democratic governor's two-year spending proposal recommends the 10 percent hike to create an Office of Public Engagement to handle constituent outreach and deliver on the "One Minnesota" promise that served as a cornerstone of his campaign.
Walz said the goal of the new office is to make government more accessible and "better serve Minnesotans by helping them navigate the state system and proactively reaching out to make sure their voices are heard."
"In a word: Seriously?" said Rep. Tony Albright, the assistant Republican leader in the House. "I find it a bit surreal that the governor is proposing a budget that raises taxes and he can't find in his own budget what other administrations have found in theirs: The ability to take care of constituent services, because that's what it is."
The Prior Lake Republican said that the governor should "find the capacity to respond to constituents within the budget" he already has.
The goal of the new office would be to "actively work to remove obstacles and barriers for engagement and to improve public awareness and involvement in the work of the Walz-Flanagan Administration," according to the budget proposal released Tuesday. In addition to logging and responding to constituent messages and processing requests for official appearances, flags and proclamations, the office would aim to make government "inclusive, transparent, accountable, and responsible" and "create and coordinate opportunities for direct dialogue between the Walz-Flanagan Administration and the people of Minnesota."
The office's tasks would include ensuring that the views of Minnesota's American Indians; racial minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people; those with disabilities; and veterans are reflected in the administration's work.
The $700,000 would be used to hire additional staff, including two senior administrators, bringing the number of workers assigned to the governor's constituent communication and outreach efforts to seven. Currently, such work is handled by one senior-level leader and 3.5 support staff positions.
A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said Walz's request must go through the budget process in the Legislature like any other request for money.
The governor's request says that a high volume of e-mails, phone calls and visits from Minnesotans — roughly 125,000 "constituent contacts" a year — merits additional staff and money. The office will also be tasked with creating a new model for tracking outreach efforts, with the goal of increasing constituent work by 25 percent over the next year.
"The [Governor's] Office does not have the current capacity to provide additional reactive and proactive outreach and engagement efforts, which are critical to Governor Walz and Lt. Governor Flanagan's vision for One Minnesota," the document states.