Dear Gov. Tim Walz,
Congratulations on your election and inauguration. The Times Editorial Board is encouraged by many of the points, promises and priorities you made campaigning and in preparing to take office.
That said, here are top priorities from this board’s perspective:
Build a reasonable budget on time
As you know, recent Legislatures and governors have turned the state’s biannual budget process into a debacle.
Whether it’s partisanship, procrastination or both, it’s hard to remember the last time Minnesotans weren’t left shaking their heads as the governor and a handful of leading legislators bickered about the state’s two-year budget as deadlines whizzed past.
Yes, that applies to your predecessor and fellow Democrat Mark Dayton. And before him, it was Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who did not do any better with timely, bipartisan budgets than his predecessor, Jesse Ventura.
Those 20 years — and 10 budgets — offer four bright-line lessons you and legislative leaders should follow.
1. Set early deadlines and meet them.
2. Always, always, always keep talking.
3. Keep budget numbers reasonable. In other words, don’t compile a plan that increases taxes substantially, if at all. Similarly, for Republicans reading this letter, don’t dig in at “no tax increases” and refuse to move.
4. Always, always, always keep talking.
Get modern on transportation
For decades, the near-entirety of Minnesota’s transportation debates have centered on one old-as-the-Roman-Empire concept: Pave more lanes.
All other discussions of rail, mass transit, air service and more have been side shows, at best. An aviation fund was even raided during the Pawlenty administration and used to bolster the general fund.
Our highways, roads and bridges are vital links for Minnesota’s people and products. Their construction and maintenance supports thousands of jobs. It’s clear they will remain the stars of the transportation firmament, likely forever and as they should be.
But it’s long past time for the state government to take a serious look at new ideas for moving people around the ever-growing metro area and for moving Minnesotans from regional center to regional center, that moves forward from a roads-only approach.
New ingredients in our transportation recipe are needed to avoid building our way to gridlock.
We see some merit in the St. Cloud NAACP and local attorney Jerry Von Korff planning to sue the state over inadequate funding of mandated special education services.
This board has long championed fair opportunities for all students — and school districts. However well-intended these mandates are, they come without full funding, which forces all districts to tap other funds to pay for them.
School boards and school districts should never shirk their responsibility to educate every type of student who lives in their domains. However, if the lawsuit forces the entities that mandate these rules to fund them, we are satisfied. You and the Legislature have a chance to settle it early by phasing in measures that fully fund the mandates.
Common-sense gun reforms
This board supports the concept Walz floated Monday, that it’s possible to both protect Second Amendment rights and have common-sense gun legislation.
Requiring background checks for gun buyers from private or unlicensed sellers makes sense. The parameters of “red flag” orders that would allow courts to order the seizure of guns from someone deemed a threat would need to be defined, but the idea is worth considering.
Also, what about working with Republicans to fund mental health care programs, a solution often mentioned by GOP candidates and legislators as an alternative to gun control measures? Even better, do this and fund research into gun violence.
Set an example
Your invocation of One Minnesota is encouraging.
We are under no illusions that the deep divides between Minnesotans on polarizing issues will be resolved by warm words and hearty handshakes. But it can’t hurt.
Minnesota has long stood as a bastion of good behavior, neighborliness, tolerance and reason — even if we disagree. That’s eroding as the national political climate poisons everything it touches.
Don’t let that happen. Fight hard, but fight fair — and allow your opponents the same privilege.
Show the people that reason still has a home in Minnesota.