GOP candidates respond to ‘Walz Checks’ proposal

(KSTP) – Soon after Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz proposed $700 million of direct payments to Minnesotans as a way to partially reduce the state’s $7.7 billion projected surplus, Republican candidates for his job weighed in publicly on the idea.

Five of the six GOP candidates took part in a candidate forum Friday morning and each was unified against the idea of the so-called "Walz Checks."

"I’ll vote for tax cuts," said Republican Sen. Michelle Benson of Ham Lake. "It’s your money and him giving it back as if it’s some sort of present is sort of a head-patting which is something that happens a lot in St. Paul."

That was a familiar response from the Republicans.

"Tim Walz wants to give you 175 bucks and then put an income cap on that," said Dr. Neil Shah, another GOP candidate. "That’s how little of this he wants to give back. So we have to re-frame the entire debate. Now I’m agnostic on which taxes we cut, but that’s all of our money and it needs to be back in our pockets."

The other three candidates also agreed much of the surplus should go back, but nearly all of it in the form of tax cuts.

"This is not a surplus, this is an overpayment," said Dr. Scott Jensen, a former state senator from Chaska. "If you went to your accountant and you did your taxes and they said geez, you overpaid $3,000. You wouldn’t ask what’s going to happen… but it would be paid back. It has to be paid back one way or another."

Sen. Paul Gazelka, the former majority leader, called for billions in "permanent" tax cuts: "We do want to give it back to the citizens, but it should be a multi-billion-dollar tax cut. That’s what we should be pushing for. The first thing we should get rid of is the Social Security income tax."

Mike Murphy, the mayor of Lexington in Anoka County, said any money should only go back to people who paid taxes.

"We have to make sure this money is going back to those who actually paid in," he said. "Not to everybody. That is the issue."

On the hot-button public safety issue, all the candidates agree the state needs to take many steps to protect Minnesotans.

Jensen had the most provocative proposal. He says Minnesota should become a "constitutional carry state" where citizens can carry handguns without a permit. Six states have adopted versions of this law.

"If my daughter had her two kids in the back seat and at a stoplight, someone came with a hammer and started to hammer out the window so that they could take her car, I would want her to be able to pick up a gun in the console and shoot the bastards," Jensen said.

Most of the other candidates propose hiring more police and tougher prosecutions.

"Once we start instilling consequences for your actions, those crime rates for carjackings will go down," Murphy said.

Only the newest member of the GOP field for governor, Kendall Qualls, did not participate in Friday’s forum at the North Metro Chamber of Commerce in Roseville.