Hey, Gov. Tim Walz: Enjoying your new job?

This week highlighted some of the challenges of being governor, even when you win a historic number of votes and inherit a reasonably solid economy and budget outlook.

My colleague Jessie Van Berkel cataloged Walz’s challenges last week.

First up: The budget forecast was downgraded from $1.5 billion surplus to a little more than $1 billion. Sounds like a lot, right? But that doesn’t take into account all the inflationary pressures that create automatic increases in the state budget, especially in two areas that government spends a lot on: education and health care.

Once Walz increases education funding to help school districts stave off cuts and layoffs, his budget team won’t be left with much.

The punishing increases in health care costs will eat into Walz’s hoped-for boost in early childhood education, higher education, local government aid and other projects that he spoke of loftily during his campaign.

I covered the Walz campaign, and I’m pretty sure he did not run on maintaining the status quo.

Perhaps in a bid to juice up his first year, Walz proposed a big $1.3 billion package of infrastructure projects to be financed with borrowed money.

“One of the best firewalls against a downturn is investments in infrastructure,” Walz said “Those are jobs in our communities. Those are disposable incomes in our communities. Those are the things that increase growth.”

This was met with dim reviews by the man with whom Walz will have to cut a budget deal this year: Sen. Paul Gazelka, the Nisswa Republican majority leader.

“That’s a good bonding bill for next year,” Gazelka said, referring to the Minnesota tradition of big public works packages in even numbered years, like 2020. So is it really dead on arrival? Or maybe a bargaining chip for later in the session?

(2020 also happens to be when Gazelka will be defending his narrow majority and will want his members to bring home some bacon.)

OK, but how about running the government?

As Van Berkel reported last week, a legislative audit found that Minnesota’s information technology agency has serious problems with oversight of software projects, budget transparency and a lack of measures to ensure accountability.

Walz has thus far been unable to find someone to be a permanent commissioner of the IT agency, known as MN.IT.

Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, chairwoman of the Senate’s State Government Committee, put it like this: “MN.IT has shown that it cannot adequately or sufficiently provide oversight on our state’s IT software development.”

Fixing it will be a tall order for Walz’s next IT commissioner. And the solutions will likely require more money and bipartisan support.

 

J. Patrick Coolican 651-925-5042 Twitter: @jpcoolican patrick.coolican@startribune.com