ST. PAUL - I grew up in a small town. There were 24 students in my graduating class--12 of whom were my cousins. My wife and I chose to settle in Mankato because of the incredible quality of life and strong sense of community. When my daughter was little, she used to say from her car seat when we were driving around town, “Daddy, I love Mankato.” It’s clear I chose right.
I am the first Greater Minnesota governor in nearly three decades. I understand the beauty of living in Greater Minnesota. I also understand the challenges. That is why I am proposing a budget that makes historic investments in Greater Minnesota.
Every student in Minnesota deserves the opportunity to learn in the best schools in the country. But as I travel around the state, I see how the quality of a student’s education is too often dependent on their zip code. Rural school districts struggle to keep teachers, afford buses, and provide opportunity for their students. The Floodwood School District recently proposed an emergency levy. If it doesn’t pass, they will be forced to lay off over a quarter of their teachers and merge grades.
This must change. We must make Minnesota the “Education State.” That is why my budget makes a historic investment in education. It 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. This funding will help provide rural districts with stable resources to make local school referendums less common.
Right now, whether from the southern town of St. Peter or the northern town of Grand Portage, many families struggle to find child care for their kids, secure housing that’s affordable, or even just make ends meet. Our budget provides grants to communities facing a lack of affordable childcare across the state. These grants will increase the supply of quality child care to reduce regional shortages, support increased workforce participation, and encourage business expansion. Our budget improves access to housing that is affordable, increases the supply of workforce housing in Greater Minnesota, and provides loans to help seniors stay in their homes.
Over the past decade, a lack of state aid has left local communities in Greater Minnesota to fend for themselves. My budget increases the amount of state aid to cities and counties across Minnesota. This will help local governments make needed investments in public safety, streets, bridges, libraries, and parks. It will also help lower the pressure on local property taxes, which have recently seen significant increases.
Access to high-speed broadband is no longer a nice-to-have, it is a necessity. Students shouldn’t have to log long hours at Perkins to finish their coursework, and farmers shouldn’t be hurt financially because they can’t use the internet to conduct business. My budget invests in a One Minnesota border-to border-broadband grant program to ensure all households have high speed internet access by 2022.
Finally, Minnesota's crumbling infrastructure is putting our safety at risk. A recent independent report found that there are over 1,000 Minnesota bridges and hundreds of miles of roads that are in poor condition. This costs the average Minnesotan over $1,000 a year in gas, lost time, and car repairs. And unless we make serious investments, it will only get worse. My budget proposes 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 Interstate 35 bridge collapse happens again. It would phase in over time and be offset by tax credits for working families.
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 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.
My budget reflects the vision of One Minnesota. Because we know that when Mankato thrives, Minneapolis thrives. When Crookston thrives, Cambridge thrives. I look forward to working across the aisle to find common ground and ensure communities across Greater Minnesota aren’t just surviving—they are thriving.
Tim Walz is the governor of Minnesota. This column is exclusive to Forum News Service