Governor aims for compromise in split state Legislature

White Bear Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tom Snell reads questions to Gov. Tim Walz at an event sponsored by the chamber at the Maplewood Community Center July 23.

MAPLEWOOD — Gov. Tim Walz said he was pleased with how the Legislature compromised for the good of Minnesota this session but is not yet satisfied because the state left several important issues unsolved this year. These include roads, climate change and gun violence.

Yet, Walz was proud of standing with the House and Senate majority leaders at the end of the session to say they came up with a pretty good solution on the state's budget. Walz, a Democrat, was leading the country's only split state Legislature; the Minnesota House majority is Democrat and the Senate majority is Republican. He said he was criticized for giving Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka credit for the budget, but he is still proud of working together.

“It's not about winning or losing political battles but finding long-term solutions,” Walz told a group gathered for an event hosted by the White Bear Area Chamber of Commerce at the Maplewood Community Center July 23. “I'm not naive. I supervised a high school lunchroom.”

Walz hopes that the Legislature can come up with compromises on more divisive issues in 2020.

“2020 is going to be a challenge because everything that was kicked down the road was tough ones,” he said. For example, climate change and gun violence. “They tend to be divisive, but they have to be addressed,” he noted.

The biggest unfinished business for Minnesota, he said, is the roads. He believes there should have been bonding or gas taxes passed for road construction and maintenance this year. He proposed a gas tax of 20 cents a gallon and tried to compromise down to one cent, he said. He proposed a gas tax because Minnesota's gas tax falls below the national average. However, the gas tax proposal was “ideologically poison” to politicians and residents.

But the state is $18.7 billion short in road funding, he noted.

“I would ask all of you come back and analyze the cost and find a way to do this,” he said. “If your roof is falling in, it is not being fiscally conservative to let it fall in and delay when you could have got better interest rates.”

He said the state has almost as many roadways as Texas or California because prior generations invested to make the state connected and modern to increase the standard of living. “Future generations are looking to us to do our fair share,” he said. “Eleven cents would put us on par with what previous generations invested.”

He said he doesn't want to pay a gas tax himself but the money to keep Minnesota's roads in shape has to come from somewhere. “Ask not what Minnesota can do for you; ask what you can do for Minnesota,” he said. In 2020, he hopes the roads can be addressed instead of “kicking the proverbial can down the potholed road” again.

Walz said he was pleased to see the only divided state Legislature in the nation end the session with dignity; it completed a budget on time for the first time in a decade. “We proved there are compromises to be found,” he said. “Folks compromise for the good of Minnesota.”

One factor that led to increased compromise this year were some final budget meetings that were closed to the public. The government was criticized for making decisions behind closed doors, but Walz said it needed to occur to reach a compromise.

“We are in a situation now where no one can compromise in public,” he said. Walz said he wants to work on making the proceedings as transparent as possible, but it is difficult for compromise to occur under the public eye when people “blow things apart,” he said.

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