EXCLUSIVE: Gov. Walz talks budget, taxes, and more in sit-down interview

As the state Legislature prepares to take up budget items after Spring recess, our State Capitol reporter Quinn Gorham sat down for an exclusive interview with
Published: Apr. 5, 2023 at 8:08 PM CDT
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (GRAY) - Minnesota Governor Tim Walz thinks “vast majority” of residents will be exempt from the state’s social security tax when the 2023 legislative session comes to an end.

Gov. Walz sat down with Gray Television’s Minnesota Capitol Reporter Quinn Gorham for a one-on-one interview Tuesday to talk about the state’s legislative session so far.

EXCLUSIVE: Governor Walz talks budget, taxes, and more in sit-down interview
EXCLUSIVE: Governor Walz talks budget, taxes, and more in sit-down interview(KTTC)

You can watch the full 14-minute interview in the player above.

The interview started with a conversation about the DFL trifecta and its impacts on the session so far.

QUINN: When you woke up the morning after the election, when you realized not only did you win, but that the DFL secured a Trifecta what was going through your head?

WALZ: I think the biggest thing for Minnesota was that there was work that was unfinished. I think one of the frustrations is ideologically, you know, some of the big issues that come up, we have to deal with reproductive care [and other such issues]. But I think the frustration is that we were sitting on a $12 billion surplus last May. We had a deal and then [because of] politics, both walked away from the deal. I think the biggest thing for me was that we have the responsibility to finish things on time [this year].

The Governor put forth a budget proposal in late January, and just a few weeks ago, the Governor and leaders in the House and Senate came up with joint budget targets. In other words, the budget targets represent an agreed-upon budget proposal between the state’s legislative bodies.

WALZ: We have a set target, and I’ve got a balanced budget. That’s what we’ve done over the last few years. We can’t run a deficit. That being said, then we come up with where [those targets are], everybody has a different idea of where they should spend that money. [But now,] we’ve agreed upon targets inside of that, and now the legislative process will work. Democracy will work. Groups are coming up here and saying ‘We need more money for nursing, we need more money for child care, we need more money for tax cuts.’ Now inside those budget targets, [the House and Senate] will work those out and finish the first week of May... You will see the biggest tax cut in state history will come out of this. I think you will see the largest investment in education now. The exact places where those go, that’s still up for negotiation.

The governor’s initial budget proposal included a record-breaking $8 billion dollars in tax relief for Minnesotans. While the joint budget targets still represent a record in tax-relief, they’re now only a fraction of the Governor’s original proposal.

QUINN: In the joint budget targets that number was just $3 billion… How did you guys settle on that much lower number?

WALZ: Republicans were convinced my idea to send checks back to people, which I feel strongly about still, was a gimmick. Now they think it’s [priority] number one. Democrats in the House aren’t as enthusiastic about that. And I said, ‘Well, let’s talk. I feel very strongly that we need to put money back in people’s pockets. I feel very strongly that there are people who can see a tax cut and Social Security that need it without the top richest folks having to see that.’

QUINN: Do you think that’s enough money though?

WALZ: We’ll see... Yes, I think it might be enough that we’re able to get it done but I feel very adamant that again, a big chunk of this, about a third of it is going back in the form of tax cuts directly back to people. The rest is going to infrastructure, education, and those types of things.

QUINN: Could we see some Social security Tax relief as well? I know that’s been a big point of contention.

WALZ: We will, we will, and I’ve compromised with them and said that I when I first came to office in 2019, we cut the Social Security tax. I didn’t get a lot of enthusiastic help from either side at that time, but we were able to get that done.

EXCLUSIVE: Governor Walz talks budget, taxes, and more in sit-down interview
EXCLUSIVE: Governor Walz talks budget, taxes, and more in sit-down interview(KTTC)

Walz went on to describe the current social security tax model, which exempts about 50% of Minnesotans. Proposals put forth during the 2023 legislative session have offered a wide range of solutions to the tax, with some even calling for a total repeal.

QUINN: To be clear, you don’t think we’ll see a total repeal?

WALZ: No, I don’t think you’ll see a total repeal. I don’t think it would make sense and it’s very expensive. But I think you’ll see the vast majority of Minnesotans be exempted.

The conversation then shifted to a discussion of policy. The DFL has come out of the gates with a laundry list of legislation, oftentimes much more progressive than the legislation being pushed in the surrounding states.

Walz believes that’s a good thing.

QUINN: Compared to the rest of the union and what you’re seeing right now, do you feel like the legislation being pushed forward and Minnesota is setting the state apart?

WALZ: No, I think it’s setting where Minnesotans are at, I want to be very clear on this. The vast majority of Minnesotans support reproductive rights... I ran on this idea of Driver’s Licenses for All back in 2006. The fact of the matter is states who [pass Driver’s Licenses for All] see a reduction of about 9% in hit-and-run accidents. It has nothing to do with immigration reform... And I feel like we don’t understand why demonize these children for their gender identity. They’re the folks in the families are dealing with this. I trust people and their healthcare professionals to make these decisions, whether it’s on reproductive care and then to be quite honest, things that want to be made to be divisive are not that much.

The governor’s legislation has drawn comparisons to other more conservative states.

QUINN: [Some have called you the ‘Anti-Ron Desantis’], what do you make of that sentiment?

WALZ: Well, I don’t know about that I served with Governor DeSantis in Congress. We obviously disagree. If there’s an “anti” piece to this, I think much of the governor’s doing is bullying people who don’t have a voice, going out for transgender people, people who say they’re a small percentage of the population. Yes, that’s absolutely true. But they have every right that we have, so why demonize them? What is it hurting you? And this idea of taking books? I’ll just have to be candid with this, I think where I am the “anti-DeSantis” is that he’s very anti-business. You heard the Disney executives on Monday say that Florida is becoming anti-business. Minnesota is not anti-business.

Walz went on to describe his thoughts on the Florida Governor’s policies, careful not to be incendiary.

WALZ: I’m not trying to pick a fight with Ron on this, but I am gonna say as a teacher and a parent that I’m going to stand up to bullies. More and more, I think the state of Minnesota is making the case that you can come here, you can live life the way you want. The irony for me is this: Nothing they’re doing in Florida is about freedom. They’re telling women about their reproductive rights. They’re telling you what you can and cannot read.

Finally, Walz weighed in on aspirations for his future.

QUINN: Would you ever consider a run for higher office?

WALZ: I’m busy with this one right now. And my wife always has a saying that her mom said: “Do the job that’s in front of you.” I think that’s the biggest thing that if you start thinking about other things, or if you start being distracted, do the job in front of you.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Parts of this interview have been edited for length and clarity.