ST. PAUL — Senate Republicans have countered Gov. Tim Walz’s proposal to help Minneapolis cover the cost of increased police presence to prevent rioting, saying the city should foot the bill — and leaving months of state-level planning hanging in the balance.
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.
At a Thursday, Feb. 4, news conference, GOP senators countered that Minneapolis should foot the bill if they need backup next month, using their Local Government Aid, or LGA. LGA is state dollars allocated to local governments every year for police and fire departments, among other local costs.
The Department of Public Safety has been for months coordinating a law enforcement plan in the Twin Cities during Chauvin's trial to prevent any outbreaks, as they did when Minnesota hosted the Super Bowl in 2018 and Republican National Convention in 2008, and officials say the promise of financial cushion with the proposed $35 million SAFE Act has been crucial to securing backup.
By "messing around" with LGA and blocking the proposal, Walz's office said Senate Republicans are jeopardizing longstanding public safety plans, and "robbing Peter to pay Paul."
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, and legislative Republicans have dubbed Walz's proposal a “bailout” for the city of Minneapolis. And they said city leaders have understaffed the police department, and should ultimately be responsible to pay for mutual aid themselves.
“I don’t want to give a dime to the city of Minneapolis, the city council there that wants to defund the police,” Gazelka said during a conversation with Americans for Prosperity Minnesota Thursday afternoon.
At his Thursday morning news conference, Gazelka said Minneapolis still has outstanding bills to pay to other police departments who served as backup during this summer’s civil unrest as part of mutual aid agreements. A spokesperson for Senate Republicans said Minneapolis currently owes $137,000 in unpaid mutual aid agreement bills.
In response, 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."
"The clock is ticking," he continued. "Senate Republicans need to clarify if they’ve changed their position and no longer support funding the police officers involved in this coordinated, multi-agency operation so they can adjust their plans accordingly."
Minutes before Senate Republicans’ Thursday news conference, Tschann released a letter that Gazelka and six other Republican senators sent to Walz in December, in which they asked Walz to approve $7.6 million for law enforcement costs to the city of Minneapolis.
Asked by reporters on Thursday why Walz’s $35 million proposal is a “bailout,” but senators’ $7.6 million request would not be, Gazelka said, “We’re not doing either.”
The House's committee on public safety earlier this week voted to advance Walz's proposal along party lines. House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, in a Thursday statement said House Democrats are grateful for law enforcement's work and "we want to make sure that they are funded and prepared."
"Democrats are standing up to provide public safety for all Minnesotans, and we expect Republicans to join us," she concluded.
Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington on Wednesday, Feb. 3, said he has been working with police departments across the state to provide mutual aid, hoping to staff a heavy enough presence to help prevent any violence from breaking out. Harrington said departments were initially wary of agreeing to help, largely citing financial concerns, but he said they were more willing after Walz put together his SAFE Account proposal.
But Gazelka questioned whether the state even needs to prepare for unrest, saying, “We don't know that there’s future riots.” If violence does break out and Minneapolis needs backup, Gazelka said, “The governor does have at his fingertips the National Guard and the Highway Patrol.”
In their letter dated just over one month ago, Gazelka and other Republicans wrote, “Learning from the experiences of this past summer, law enforcement agencies are planning for civil disturbances which may occur at the conclusions of the trials of the four police officers present at the death of Mr. Floyd.”
In a series of news conferences and statements on Wednesday, House and Senate Republicans referred to the SAFE Account as a "bailout" for Minneapolis, footed by Greater Minnesota taxpayers. Walz on Wednesday said they were seeking to divide rural versus metro Minnesotans with their rhetoric.
"This is the cancer in our country," Walz said Wednesday. "This is about dividing. This is never about trying to unite together."
Gazelka responded on Thursday saying he was "surprised and disappointed" in Walz's choice of words, pointing the finger at him for sowing division.
On Twitter, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey noted that the state of Minnesota collects more in sales taxes from the city than the state distributes in LGA statewide: "In other words, what the state collects from (Minneapolis) in sales tax (...) is enough to cover LGA for every municipality in the state."
"In good times and tough times, our state works best when we all pull together," he concluded.
Walz’s proposal is moving through the Democratic-controlled House, and the Republican Senate’s version is set to be filed shortly. Chauvin’s trial is set to begin March 8.
Forum News Service correspondent Dana Ferguson contributed to this report. Contact Sarah Mearhoff at email@example.com or 610-790-4992.