Over the past two years, I have had the privilege to visit with Minnesotans in their communities. From Grand Portage to Luverne, Minnesotans have welcomed me into their schools, their VFWs, their coffee shops, and their homes.
As I traveled mile after mile and enjoyed countless conversations across the state, it became clear to me that there are three priorities the people of Minnesota share: education, health care and community prosperity.
The budget I unveiled last week will make significant strides in achieving these priorities. I have often said that a budget is not only a fiscal document — it's a moral document. This budget reflects the morals of the people of Minnesota. This is the budget Minnesotans voted for by historic margins.
The first priority of my budget is education. As a former teacher, I've seen firsthand the power of education to change a life. But as I travel around the state, I see how the quality of a student's education is too often dependent on their race or ZIP code.
A leveling off in state support for education has widened gaps between wealthy and poor and between metro and greater Minnesota schools. While some schools have turf fields and a stadium, another school scrambles to pass a referendum to fix a leaky roof.
This must change. We must make Minnesota the "Education State." That is why I am proposing a historic investment in education. By starting to close the funding gap, my budget will help ensure every child has a good teacher, receives individual attention and has access to the materials they need to compete in today's economy.
The second priority of my budget is health care. Many Minnesotans do not have health coverage or struggle to afford their premiums. Skyrocketing costs keep Minnesotans from getting the care they need.
That's why I am proposing a multipronged approach to expand access and keep down costs. My budget includes funding to extend low-cost coverage to thousands of farmers, small-business owners, and entrepreneurs. It leverages the state's purchasing power to lower prescription drug costs and creates a public option to provide every Minnesotan with an additional health care option.
The third priority of my budget is community prosperity. Right now, whether from the urban North Side of Minneapolis or the rural town of Hallock, many families struggle to find child care for their kids, secure housing that's affordable or even just make ends meet.
Our budget tackles these challenges head on. It expands access to the Child Care Assistance Program and increases the supply of quality child care in shortage areas. It increases rates of homeownership for households of color, expands workforce housing in greater Minnesota, and provides loans to help seniors stay in their homes. It reinstates state aid to cities and counties across Minnesota to help local governments in greater Minnesota improve public safety, streets, libraries, parks and housing.
Another critical component of community prosperity is the well-being of our transportation system. Minnesota's crumbling infrastructure is putting our safety at risk. A recent report found there are more than 1,000 Minnesota bridges and hundreds of miles of roads that are in poor condition. This costs the average Minnesotan more than $1,000 a year in gas, lost time and car repairs. And unless we make serious investments, it will only get worse.
That is why I am proposing a 20-cent increase in the gas tax to keep Minnesotans safe, help businesses and farmers get goods to market and ensure nothing like the I-35 bridge collapse happens again.
Finally, my budget reflects another value Minnesotans share: Always be careful about how money is spent and never expect something for nothing. This is not a choice between investing or not. It is a choice between having the best health care, transportation, and education systems, or having Minnesotans go without care, a generation of children slip through our fingers and crumbling roads and bridges that are unsafe and keep away business.
Minnesotans know they get what they pay for. They are willing to invest, but they want to know that their money is being spent wisely. This budget is fair, balanced and fiscally responsible. It includes $440 million in tax relief for Minnesotans, prioritizing working families, farmers and small businesses. It focuses on tested solutions, invests in programs that have proven success and builds in new accountability measures to determine which investments are working and which are not. It spends now to save later. We know that putting a child on the bus to a good elementary school can prevent us from putting them on a bus to prison later in life.
This budget looks to the future, because we are a state that looks to the future. As the federal government flounders, Minnesota will pave the way in finding solutions to our toughest challenges. As I've said many times, if Washington won't lead, Minnesota will.
Education. Health care. Community prosperity. Those are the building blocks for One Minnesota. Let's get to work.
Tim Walz is the governor of Minnesota.