In visit to Winona, Tim Walz attempts to garner support for budget proposal

Tobias Mann – Winona Daily News
April 16, 2019


Gov. Tim Walz talked up the importance of local government aid to ensuring the safety and quality of life Minnesotans have come to expect during a visit to Winona Tuesday — the former congressman’s first visit to the city since taking office in January.

“Minnesotans have always gotten that we’re in this together,” Walz said, adding that when the decision is made to cut government aid, communities are left to make difficult decisions like not hiring a firefighter or closing the city pool.

Walz’s proposed budget calls for a $30 million increase in aid to cities and counties to help offset the cost of road improvements and public safety.

Surrounded by a small group of community leaders, citizens and business owners inside Winona’s Central Fire station Tuesday afternoon, Walz, a Democrat, emphasized how local government aid allows emergency personnel like firefighters and law enforcement to do their jobs and keeps roads and bridges safe to drive on.

“You see a lot of communities really struggling to provide community safety,” he said, adding that many communities have been forced to combine resources or raise property taxes to buy equipment.

“It’s not good enough to have to wait 40 minutes for emergency response,” he said.

It’s not just public safety, according to state Rep. Gene Pelowski (DFL-Winona).

“Local government aid is essential to greater Minnesota,” he said. “Forty to fifty percent of Winona’s budget is local government aid.”

And, according to Pelowski, more local government aid means communities like Winona don’t have to continue to raise property taxes to maintain roads and bridges.

“LGA is a common sense investment in our communities,” Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said.

Flanagan said that while the $30 million bump in local government aid is just a small part of a larger budget, it has a big impact on the community overall.

The governor’s plan drew a swift endorsement from Winona Fire Chief Kurt Bittle, who hopes the increase in aid will allow the department to hire a third firefighter to staff the city’s west-side firehouse.

“Any increase in LGA would substantially make the city safer,” he said.

Bittle’s sentiments were echoed by Winona mayor Mark Peterson.

“We’re excited about the prospect of bringing out local government aid back to where it was,” he said. “We can certainly put it to good use.”

While Walz’s budget drew support from some, former Winona Radio owner and developer Jerry Papenfuss condemned Walz’s budget, arguing that it would raise taxes on local businesses that return millions to the community.

“You’ve got a $1.5 billion — a billion at least — in surplus and yet you’re asking for billions more,” he said. “It just doesn’t make sense to business people.”

Papenfuss questioned whether the governor understood what his budget would do to business owners.

“Can we be a little bit more tight on the budget, a little more frugal,” he said. “Before you ask for more money maybe you should get those departments back on track by getting them to function more like a local business would run.”

While Walz agreed with Papenfuss that there are areas of the government that are not as efficient as they could be, he countered his assertion that they should be run more like small businesses.

“Fifty percent of restaurants close within five years,” Walz said. “The state of Minnesota cannot close.”

Whether or not Walz will be able to muster enough support in the Senate to make his budget proposal a reality remains an unknown.

“We are out making the case of the implications of it,” he said, adding that while some have boiled down the budget to “gas tax or no gas tax,” the budget is really about having the resources to improve roads and make them safer.

State Sen. Jeremy Miller (R-Winona) was traveling and could not be reached for comment on this story.

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