ST. PAUL — Senate Republicans previewed a bill Thursday that they say would hold cities accountable to pay their mutual aid agreements and prevent Gov. Tim Walz from diverting funds away from education and health care to cover cities’ public safety costs that defund the police.
The bill will be authored by District 22 Sen. Bill Weber (R-Luverne), chair of the Subcommittee on Property Taxes. It allows cities that provided mutual aid but haven’t been reimbursed for it yet to apply to have their Local Government Aid (LGA) adjusted to match the amount owed. The funds would be provided by lowering the LGA from the city that owes the mutual aid payment.
“Local Government Aid is a tool we already have funds for," Weber explained. "Part of the $4.5 billion in new spending in Gov. Walz’s proposed budget is this special fund to protect Minneapolis.
"Respectfully, we have to balance our state budget, and Minneapolis has the money for public safety," Weber continued. "If they aren’t paying their bills or need more mutual aid than they can afford after defunding their own police by $8 million, we’re not going to ask taxpayers to foot that bill. This process is fair, it encourages law enforcement to be fully funded by cities, and it doesn’t take money away from the education or health care needs in the budget.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-East Gull Lake) added that while Gov. Walz wants to set up a separate fund to bail out the Minneapolis City Council from its poor budget decisions, "we are holding the line and encouraging them to reconsider their priorities." He added that the GOP still wants to encourage mutual aid to keep Minnesotans safe.
"This bill will restore confidence to neighboring cities by ensuring that they are reimbursed when they step up to protect their neighbors with no additional cost to the taxpayers," Gazelka said.
Republicans' opposition comes one day after Walz introduced his so-called SAFE Account, a $35 million nest egg to help local governments cover the cost of mutual aid should they need emergency backup during extraordinary civil unrest. The debate comes weeks before ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is to stand trial on murder charges in the May 2020 death of George Floyd — a case that local leaders fear will lead to violent demonstrations.
Walz spokesperson Teddy Tschann on Thursday afternoon accused Senate Republicans of "flip-flop(ping)" on public safety. After months of state-level preparation with police departments for the trial, Tschann said, "Messing around with local government aid to punish the City of Minneapolis is not a serious plan to prepare for a public safety challenge of this magnitude."
Weber supports legislation removing governor’s authority to close schools
Proposed new legislation (Senate File 2) presented Wednesday removes any governor’s authority to close schools or alter school schedules via executive order. Decisions about opening and closing will be left in the hands of individual school districts moving forward, where local officials have firsthand knowledge of their students’ needs.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, Minnesota never should have adopted a statewide mandate forcing all of our districts to use the same criteria and protocols for each individual school,” Weber said. “We know that all of our schools are unique and should have empowered local authorities the flexibility to do what is best for their communities and students. Now, with the data clearly saying it’s safe for schools to reopen, it is time for the governor to relinquish this authority.”
The bill says the governor may not use executive order authority to issue any order or to authorize the commissioner of education to alter school schedules, curtail school activities, or order schools closed. The legislation does not remove the governor mask mandate on student-athletes.