State leaders hit East Side Freedom Library to discuss budget


Marjorie Otto/ Review Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan came by the East Side Freedom Library March 8 to talk about their state budget proposal, specifically on how it will support indigenous peoples and communities of color.

Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan stopped by the East Side Freedom Library on March 8 to talk about their budget and how it will specifically impact indigenous peoples and communities of color.

The event was organized by LinkingLeaders Partnership, which is made up of four networks — the African American Leadership Forum, Coalition of Asian American Leaders, LatinoLEAD and the Tiwahe Foundation.

Flanagan and Walz took some time to talk about their goals with the budget and answered questions from the audience. 

“Budgets are fiscal documents, but more importantly, they are moral documents,” said Walz, explaining the focus of the budget is not about individual departments and goals, but how multiple elements come together to support whole people, in terms of housing, healthcare and education. 

Questions during the evening touched on small businesses, drivers licenses for all, help for community nonprofits, and how to make sure programs and opportunities are accessible to and meet communities of color where they are.

 

Variety of concerns

One of the first questions was on what had been included in the budget to help small business owners, especially those of color, overcome barriers to business ownership.

Walz said that understanding historic trauma and historical barriers, and creating policies based on that, is one step. He also said the budget continues to fund grants and tax credits from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development that can help take down barriers to small business ownership.

Flanagan added that in addition to grants and tax credits through DEED, there also needs to be a process to cut down on unnecessary or burdensome regulations that stand as barriers to communities of color. To do that, she said their administration’s newly created Office of Community Engagement needs to work with communities to create beneficial policies.

Another audience member asked about support for driver’s licenses for all, including undocumented immigrants, and what the budget includes to help small nonprofits succeed. 

On the topic of licenses for undocumented immigrants, often called “Freedom to Drive,” Walz said that if a bill on the subject came through the legislature, he would sign it immediately. He added he believes it’s an issue that should have already been solved, both from a safety point of view and for people to be able to find to work. He suggested constituents call their state senators to talk about the issue, making it a “pressure point.”

Flanagan said the budget includes funding for the Nonprofit Infrastructure Grant Program, which was created a few years ago to support nonprofits that focus on historically underserved communities and establishing strong financial infrastructure within them. 

When it comes to diversifying leadership at the state level, one audience member asked what the governor and lieutenant governor can do to help people of color to get into those roles. 

Walz said he understands that he needs to use his white male privilege to open doors and step aside. He said one example was appointing people that represent the diversity of the state to serve on the Commission on Judicial Selection, a state entity that selects candidates for district court judgeships.

Flanagan added that there’s still a ways to go when it comes to diversifying leadership roles, but that she believes progress is being made, especially when seeing the diversity of those elected to the Legislature and to Congress. She said she is always open to sitting down and talking with anyone who may be considering a run for office.

Another question from the audience was about what the budget includes to help education and workforce development, especially for two-year colleges.  

Flanagan said her approach would be to work with partners in philanthropy groups and with state agencies to provide paid internships, while removing barriers to create those internships.

Walz added that there needs to be intentional work done to get more teachers of color into schools, so students have teachers who look like them. He added he wants the state to help fund full-service community schools — a new model of schooling that includes in-school social services to help not just students, but their families as a whole. 

For a video of the forum go to the Coalition of Asian American Leaders Facebook page. 

For those unable to make the event but who want to share their concerns or thoughts about the budget, contact the Governor’s Office at 651-201-3400 or go to www.mn.gov/governor, where the budget can be viewed. 

 

-Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com

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