ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — As hundreds of people cheered on the lawn around him, Minnesota Democratic Gov. Tim Walz signed a document to symbolize the passage of his $72 billion “One Minnesota Budget” at a celebratory ceremony on the front steps of the State Capitol Wednesday morning.
Earlier that day, Walz signed twelve bills into laws that are part of the One Minnesota Budget.
The wide-reaching set of measures includes funding for: free school meals to children, free tuition at public colleges for students whose families earn less than $80,000 a year, a paid family and medical leave program, health insurance regardless of immigration status, gun violence prevention, abortion rights protections, voting rights expansion and more.
"It’s gonna mean a fairer, more inclusive, better and more prosperous Minnesota,” Walz said.
Democrats took full control of state government when the Legislature convened for its 2023 session, marking the first time in eight years they have held the trifecta of both chambers plus the governor’s office. This put them in position to pass a long list of legislative priorities that the previous Senate Republican majority had blocked.
Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said to the crowd, “Today is a celebration — not only of the work of the last five months, but it is a celebration of the last several decades of organizing.”
Flanagan, a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, said the record-setting diversity among lawmakers this session was a reason that Democrats were able to secure so many big wins. “Our democracy thrives, our democracy functions better, when it accurately reflects the people that it seeks to represent,” she said. “And so, we don't need folks who say, ‘I wonder how this community feels,’ because those communities are now at the table in a major way.”
Other measures in the newly signed budget bills include: a child tax credit that will provide up to $1,750 per child to families with low incomes; increased funding for schools to boost resources; climate resiliency grants to help people prepare for extreme weather and upgrade old infrastructure; and improvements to roads, bridges and electrical vehicle infrastructure.
Republican House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, of Cold Spring, said in an interview that the One Minnesota Budget is more like a “One Democrat Minnesota” budget, because it does not represent a unification of both parties.
Referring to the percentage of Republican lawmakers in the Legislature this session, Demuth said 48% of Minnesotans were not represented in many of the policies that Democrats championed and passed with their slim majorities in the Senate and House.
As for the new budget, Demuth said she's concerned. “When you look at a higher budget than what we had, that’s a tax increase. So I think the reality of what that means is going to hit Minnesotans over the next weeks, months and years," she said.
The newly signed bills include a 0.75% sales tax increase in the Twin Cities metro area, a 50-cent fee on non-food deliveries over $100 and higher driver's license and vehicle registration fees. They also include tax increases on companies with global income and some reduced deductions for wealthy individuals.
The budget bills are already facing at least one legal challenge.
A group of Christian parents and schools filed a lawsuit Wednesday to challenge a provision in a bill governing the state’s Postsecondary Enrollment Options program, which lets high school students earn college credit tuition-free.
They said the change unconstitutionally makes religious colleges ineligible to participate if they require a statement of faith from students, as the University of Northwestern – St. Paul and Crown College do. The change was meant to restrict the program to schools that admit all students regardless of their beliefs.
Trisha Ahmed is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. Follow Trisha Ahmed on Twitter: @TrishaAhmed15
Trisha Ahmed And Steve Karnowski, The Associated Press