Highlights from Walz’s state of the state: Education, infrastructure and gun control

Gun Rights

Gov. Tim Walz delivered his sixth state of the state address at Owatonna High School on Tuesday, treating the 22-minute speech as a victory lap following the sweeping legislation passed in the 2023 session. He highlighted historic investments in public education, affordable housing and child care, among others.

Walz’s address was a precursor to what Democrats will campaign on in November, when all 134 seats of the Minnesota House are on the ballot. Republicans will attack the DFL’s spending largesse and new programs and regulations that some business groups say will impede economic growth and wage gains.  

Like last year, Walz uncharacteristically stuck to his prepared remarks, making few ad libs in his speech centered around the work completed last session and what more needs to be done.

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“Tonight, I’m proud to report that the state of our state is strong, and one of the main reasons is because the kids of our state are better equipped to thrive,” Walz said.

Here are some takeaways from Walz’s state of the state address:

Back to school

Walz began his speech harkening back to his days as a high school teacher and praising Owatonna’s brand new high school. He said the Owatonna community overcame years of gridlock and other obstacles to get it done. Walz likened the building of the new high school to the 2023 work of the Legislature, which passed an ambitious agenda following years of gridlock and despite narrow DFL majorities. 

He highlighted investments in education, like expanded access to mental health and efforts to recruit diverse teachers and increase teacher pay.

“We’ve invested in making sure every student can read at grade level,” Walz said.

That’s an ambitious goal: Less than half of Minnesota students met or exceeded grade level standards in reading and math, according to 2023 statewide tests. In reading, about half of students met or exceeded grade level standards — down 1% from 2022.

He noted that more students are eating school breakfast and lunch thanks to the free school meals program passed last year. He criticized those who “roll their eyes” at the importance of full bellies and applauded Minnesota for avoiding the culture war fight besetting schools in other states.

One jab at Republican states

The governor spent less time criticizing red state Republicans this year, but still referred to the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision declaring frozen embryos are children, which caused infertility clinics to temporarily close there. He said the issue is personal, as he and First Lady Gwen Walz underwent in-vitro fertilization to start their family, and he pledged to protect IVF. 

“Your own personal decisions about your family are no one’s business but your own,” Walz said.

He said the Alabama IVF decision was “a direct attack on my children.”

“Gwen and I will not forget it, nor will we forgive it, and neither will thousands across this state,” he said.

‘We’re going to keep building’

Walz said the Legislature this year will focus on passing funding for infrastructure projects, ensuring Minnesotans have access to clean water, safer streets and affordable housing. 

Walz earlier this year proposed a $982 million public works proposal funded largely with borrowed money. About half of his proposed funding would go toward maintenance on existing infrastructure.

“These things might not be that flashy but these are the initiatives that make an enormous difference in real people’s lives across the state,” Walz said. “There’s no reason we can’t get them done this session. There’s no reason that both parties can’t be part of getting this done.”

Republican leaders have said they want to see an infrastructure package that focuses on the basics, not like last year’s that included a significant amount of money for nonprofit organizations.

“We have serious challenges ahead. While Walz and Democrats keep bringing up the past, we’re looking to the future and the contrast could not be clearer,” said Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, in a statement. “Without balance restored to state government, we are on a crash course to even more partisanship, challenging deficits, and a bureaucratic state government bloated with inefficiencies, fraud, and wasteful spending.”

‘Take the NRA on’

Walz closed his remarks by encouraging lawmakers to pass more gun control legislation this year. He named the safe storage of firearms, mandatory reporting of lost or stolen firearms and an increased penalty for straw purchases.

Left unmentioned were two other proposals from DFL lawmakers: a ban on the sale and transfer of semi-automatic rifles and a bill allowing local governments to enact their own gun laws.

Walz said he doesn’t want kids in Minnesota to be afraid to go to school.

“When you come to high school, you should be worried about pop quizzes and prom dates, not mass shootings, and that’s why as governor I made it a point to move towards responsible gun ownership and take the NRA on,” said Walz, who once reliably earned an ‘A’ rating from the NRA while in Congress until he ran for governor in 2018, when 17 students and staff were murdered at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

Walz closed his state of the state address appealing to lawmakers’ sense of legacy, which will be shaped, he said, by accomplishment, not petty bickering. 

“Nobody’s going to remember what silly fight got somebody on TV, but the things that we are fighting for will still stand,” Walz said.

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