Governor Walz Adds Public Housing, Public Safety and Health Care Options to Growing Budget List

Gov. Tim Walz wrapped up a week-long preview of his budget priorities Monday by visiting a Roseville fire station to highlight spending plans for health, housing and public safety.

Walz’s latest proposals include money to fight crime, make housing more affordable and give low-income residents a public option to buy health insurance. All told, it would add about $2.3 billion to the next two-year budget.

The Democratic governor’s full budget proposal will be released Tuesday. It will include at least $14 billion in new spending that will come from the state’s historic $17.6 billion budget surplus.

“With this surplus, we have the ability to put money back in their pockets, improve schools, improve access to health care, improve public safety, all while lowering the costs of living for middle-class residents of Minnesota”. Walz said during a visit to the firehouse with Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan and staff.

spending plans

Walz has already introduced new spending plans focused on things like tax breaks, affordable child care, school funding, helping businesses and workers, the environment, and agriculture.

Governor Tim Walz discusses the health, housing and safety pieces of his budget proposal Monday, Jan. 23, 2023, at a Roseville fire station as Fire Chief David Brosnahan, left, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan and the staff observe. (Christopher Magan-Pioneer Press)

Democrats have limited control of both the Minnesota House and Senate, so Walz is likely to get a lot of what he wants in the next state budget due at the end of May.

So far, Republicans, now in the minority in both chambers, have criticized Walz’s plans as too much new spending and too few tax cuts. Republican leaders plan to respond to the governor’s full budget plans after they are released Tuesday afternoon.

Of the proposals Walz announced Monday, the largest chunk was for about $1 billion over the next biennium for affordable housing. It includes grants and assistance to add affordable housing, keep rental costs low, and address homelessness.

“Everyone in Minnesota deserves to feel safe, protected and valued, no matter where they live,” said Flanagan, who noted that her family used public housing vouchers growing up.

public safety programs

Walz has also earmarked about $700 million for public safety programs, including $300 million for local communities to hire and retain staff. There is also about $185 million for criminal justice reform.

Crime was a major issue during the fall campaign and a constant point of contention between Democrats and Republicans. The Republican Party has pushed for more police officers and tougher penalties, while Democrats also want crime prevention programs.

“This proposal ensures that communities have what they need,” Walz said. “To make sure Minnesota is a safe place for everyone.”

Part of that, the governor noted, was passing “common sense” gun reform measures, including universal background checks and red flag laws that make it easier to take guns from people deemed dangerous. Walz also expressed his support for other gun reforms.

“There is no reason why we should have firearms in recreation centers,” he said. “There is no reason why we should have guns in the state Capitol.”

House Minority Leader Rep. Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, said the governor’s proposed $300 million in funding for local public safety was too small.

“We must focus on getting dangerous criminals off the streets and making sure we are investing appropriately in local law enforcement so they have the tools they need to investigate and prevent crime,” Demuth said in a statement.

Expanded Access to MinnesotaCare

Walz’s spending plan includes what has long been a wish of members of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party: creating a public option for low-income residents to purchase health insurance.

The proposal would expand access to MinnesotaCare, which essentially uses the Medicaid framework to provide low-cost health care. Hospitals and health systems have opposed the idea in the past due to the low reimbursement rates the government pays for services.

Walz acknowledged the challenges with reimbursement rates and said he would work to win over health care providers, noting that expanding access should help hospitals save money on emergency care in the long run.

After Walz details his budget on Tuesday, the House and Senate committees will dig into the details of their spending plans and also develop their own proposals. All those differences must be resolved before the end of May for the next state budget, which was on track to hit $54 billion before changes were made.

“We have the capacity in Minnesota to make this the best state,” Walz said. “I’m excited about the possibilities.”

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