A group of community-based journalists spoke with Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan on March 12 about the state budget. The one-hour conversation was organized by The Uptake. As part of our ongoing look at how the state is addressing trauma-informed reform, Minnesota Women’s Press editor Mikki Morrissette asked:
Walz noted that trauma has been built over centuries. “Physical security is not the only thing communities need.” With the trials beginning for the murder of George Floyd, he says, the critique is fair that as a state we are not doing enough to learn about the trauma people are feeling, and we need to hold more spaces for grief in partnership with community members.
For example, as a former teacher, he says he knows that students are returning to school this spring with some level of trauma and will need increased mental health services, summer programming, and more.
Flanagan noted that healing in this state is about listening, in partnership with groups who work in communities, build relationships, and allow survivors to speak on their own behalf. The state has been “headed in the same direction for 162 years. Trying to turn the ship is a tall order, but we are in a moment where we have to get it done. If folks are not willing to be in that work with us, then they just have to get out of the way.”
The budget proposal for the 2021-23 biennium includes investing $4.2 million to address recommendations from statewide public safety listening sessions that ended in January 2020. It would support grants for community healing after traumatic events, stress management services for first responders, and trauma services and burial costs after an officer-involved death.
It would include Innovations in Policing grants to incentivize municipalities, counties, and tribal governments to implement transformative strategies. Potential outcomes might include preventing and reducing police-involved deadly force encounters, as well as alternatives to arrests and bookings for mental health-related responses.
Walz says one thing he hopes more people understand is that it is the legislature that decides where money is spent. Last year, the Minnesota Senate leadership reportedly did not even read his budget proposal.
The discussion included affordable housing — can the governor’s budget proposal in 2021 actually make a dent in the need to offer more options for those with housing insecurity?
The conversation included white supremacy, attacks on Asian Americans, the need for stronger ethnic studies standards in curriculum, and more work to value and welcome all.
The discussion included the realities of taxation, and the skewed narrative that gets played out about who is actually impacted by raised taxes, and who is not.
Walz thinks the federal and state tax code is easy to misunderstand. Tax cuts for average families are not the same as generating public revenue from the wealthiest individuals, who typically get notable cuts.
He noted that if you took only the additional money earned by the 12 wealthiest people in the world in 2020, compared to 2019, it would be enough to vaccinate everyone in the world. He believes income inequity is hurting this country and the world, and to solve that we need much greater fairness in the tax code.
Flanagan added that tax increases are generally meant for those who “make more than $20,000 per week.”
As one of the few progressive states tax-wise, some at the legislature argue that the current surplus enables us to skip creation of a proposed fifth tax tier for those who are earning $1 million or more — about 0.7 percent of taxpayers. The proposal also would increase a tax on profitable corporations.
The budget would raise $1.3 billion of the $1.66 billion total tax hike from top-tier individuals and corporations, and use it to improve infrastructure around long-term investments in education, small business, childcare, and more.
In March, revisions to the budget proposal were released. It increases spending in public education and summer school, additional assistance to small businesses, childcare and tuition assistance, and other pandemic-related supports. Since Minnesota in the past few months has been able to project a positive budget balance, the increases are intended to boost support to those who have “borne the brunt of this pandemic … additional investments to support working families, ensure students catch up on learning, and help small businesses stay afloat while driving economic recovery.”
The governor noted that U.S. News & World Report recently cited Minnesota as #2 in the nation — but he knows that is a recognizable accolade only for white people in the state, since we are also among the worst in disparities. He had a recent conversation with a young woman from Arkansas who said “Minnesota racism is quiet, but it is meaner.”
He noted that “we get a lot right, but we avoid things that make us uncomfortable.” We can be incredibly proud of the state, but also “must have the courage to say what our weaknesses are.”
Budget proposals are introduced in the legislature and make their way through the process in a number of individual appropriations bills.
Once they are approved and passed by the legislature, each law is sent to the governor, who can accept the law by signing it, veto the entire law, or veto portions of the law. The final budget passed by the legislature does not appear in a single law but is made up of a number of separate appropriations laws.
This is when lobbying makes a difference.
Some of the stories we have featured lately about issues at the state funding level: