This week, Walz heads to Owatonna for on-the-road State of State speech

Published 7:50 pm Monday, March 25, 2024

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By Clay Masters, Minnesota Public Radio News

Gov. Tim Walz gives the State of the State address Tuesday and he won’t be doing it from the Capitol in St. Paul. He’ll be at a high school in Owatonna in southern Minnesota.

It’s not the first time Walz has gone on the road, but it has been a few years.

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The House chamber in the state Capitol is the traditional setting and where Walz has given three of his five annual addresses, including last year.

He spoke without an audience from the Governor’s Residence during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and was also by himself in 2021 when he spoke from a classroom at Mankato West High School, where he was a teacher prior to entering politics.

This time, he’ll have an audience in the auditorium at the relatively new Owatonna High School.

Walz told MPR’s Politics Friday he plans to bring up hot-button issues like reproductive freedom and gun control. But he said the emphasis will be on the model Owatonna has set for education and workforce development.

Walz is also likely to touch on the modest changes he has proposed to the state budget enacted last year.

He wants most of the projected $3.7 billion surplus untouched to avoid causing more pressure on future finances. But on Friday, Walz acceded to top DFL lawmakers and agreed to a bigger overall spending plan, about $541 million over the next three years. That’s more than double the $226 million Walz had proposed just days earlier.

“As the investments we made begin to take hold, these supplemental budget targets will protect that work, meet Minnesotans’ urgent needs and shape what comes next in our work to support Minnesota’s families, workers, consumers, and communities,” Senate Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said of the blueprint.

Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, said he wasn’t invited to this stage of negotiations and questioned the priorities emerging so far.

Most notably, Johnson said the proposed allocation of $16 million to shore up emergency medical services across the state isn’t enough to close gaps. He said it needs to be six times that amount or more.

“When you pick up the telephone because you have a heart attack or there is something going on at home, you expect an ambulance to be there. That’s a basic government service,” Johnson said. “We expect the budget to reflect what the people of Minnesota prioritize. That’s one of the things that’s bread and butter.”

Some lawmakers will make the trek to Owatonna for the event.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, guesses she’ll hear about last year’s “momentous budget year” and how all the legislation signed into law last year is being implemented.

“He’s looking forward to signing a capital investment bill if it makes it to his desk,” Hortman said. “I would expect he would focus on that.”

The location could give Walz room to nod to an area of bipartisan work. He intends to highlight technical training at Owatonna schools.

Republicans and Democratic lawmakers often talk about vocational trades and ramping up education for positions in the workforce where there are shortages now.

Last week, the governor was at Hennepin Technical College where he and other officials promoted $20 million in awards meant to encourage career training in high-demand fields. He said some schools recognize the need to boost certain areas; they’re offering programs to accelerate certificates for nursing assistance, for instance.

“You walk in there and you will see high-tech manufacturing,” Walz told a roundtable of grant recipients about the Owatonna school. “Our high school students are not only walking across stage at graduation, they’re walking across that stage with a CNA, and a placement already in a high-paying job.”

Walz said Owatonna is doing things right and he wants to highlight that.

“My message is going to be, look, our future lies in our ability to invest in our children: healthy starts, food, child tax credit, investments in education and workforce development,” Walz told MPR News on Friday. “You’re going to see a pretty bipartisan, positive message.”