ST. PAUL — Gov. Tim Walz wove the stories of eight Minnesotans together to make a pitch for some of his top budget priorities and to urge lawmakers to work across political divides at his first State of the State address Wednesday, April 3.
The DFL governor skipped the teleprompter and "poll-tested speech," delivering his remarks off the cuff. He told lawmakers that he wasn't there to fight them over political ideologies.
Instead, in the country's only divided Legislature, Walz said lawmakers could cave to storylines of the past that end in special sessions and government shutdowns, and that mirror the dysfunction in Congress, or they could chart a new path.
“The state of our state is strong and we are at a crossroads," Walz said. "We can choose to follow the same story that was written ahead of time, we can choose to decide who belongs and who doesn't, we can choose to let ideology drive us before people, or we can do what Minnesota's always done: rise up and create a better way of life, lead the nation in how things could get done.
And he left them with a charge: “Let’s go write the story."
Walz's speech comes days after lawmakers in the DFL-led House of Representatives and GOP-controlled Senate released budget proposals $2 billion apart. Leaders of either chamber have pushed the other to take up priority legislation with little success.
He invited the Fergus Falls mayor, a Goodhue County dairy farmer, a Floodwood teacher, former students of his from Mankato who became businessmen and his longtime neighbor to help illustrate the impact the policies passed at the Capitol can have on real people. Walz used their stories to highlight his plans to boost funds to education, health care and road and bridge repairs.
"Behind every one of the debates we have here are real people," Walz said to loud applause.
His remarks were met with mixed reviews in the divided Legislature, with leaders agreeing on the top issues before them but splitting on the best way to resolve them. In particular, mentions of expanding access to a state-subsidized health care plan and boosting taxes to fund repairs to roads and bridges yielded polarized responses.
“The issues that he’s talking about, we care about as well. I think one of the bigger issues is how much money to fix those issues," Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said. "When we work through those issues we’re looking at the taxpayer, that’s the one person that I want to make sure that we don’t forget."
Gazelka said debates over funding health and human services proposals would be the biggest sticking point moving forward, but said he was encouraged to hear a positive tone and willingness to compromise from the governor.
"If he's committed to negotiating in good faith, we certainly are," Gazelka said.
Lawmakers and the governor have about six weeks left to write a two-year budget. And despite disagreements about what the final price tag should be and what should be in it, legislative leaders said Minnesotans can expect them to get it done on time.
"Part of what we're here to do is have conflict, so not every day is going to be Kumbaya," House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said. "We should have vigorous disagreement about those areas where we have differences of opinion and that doesn't mean that will bode for the ending."
While it didn't come up in his speech, lawmakers supportive of the construction of the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline in northern Minnesota donned pins that said, "Go Line 3." The pins illustrated their opposition to the Walz administration's continued appeal of the oil pipeline project.
"Governor Walz talked tonight about helping the Floodwood school district," House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said. "The best way we can do that is by replacing the Line 3 pipeline which will grow jobs and generate millions of property tax revenue that will help communities and school districts throughout northern Minnesota."