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Walz promises no lectures, no surprises for Minn. county officials

September 13, 2018

ALEXANDRIA, Minn. No surprises. Thats what U.S. Rep. Tim Walz told county leaders they can expect if he is elected governor.

Walz, a Democrat, addressed more than 200 local government officials from across the state gathered in Alexandria on Thursday for the Association of Minnesota Counties fall policy conference. His Republican competitor, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, was scheduled to speak to the group later in the morning.

County commissioners questioned Walz on their most pressing concerns, from transportation funding to polarization in Minnesota politics to frustration over top-down governance and unfunded mandates.

My responsibility is to make sure you are never surprised, you are part of the decisionmaking on the front end, you are not being lectured to or have unfunded mandates before you have the opportunity to say what is the best way to deliver that, Walz told the crowd.

County officials said they have been tasked with responsibilities, such as handling child protective services, with insufficient financial support from the state.

Walz said in an interview after his speech that he would audit whats being asked of counties and the costs. Then he said he would figure out, with help from the counties, how to adjust things.

The nonpartisan association does not endorse candidates, but is a strong voice at the State Capitol representing Minnesotas 87 counties.

During the last legislative session the group called on state lawmakers to put more than $50 million toward expanding broadband access, invest in mental health resources, make policy changes related to opioid addiction and dedicate new revenue for roads, bridges and transit.

The associations various policy committees start shaping their 2019 legislative platforms during this weeks conference. Opioids, and substance abuse generally, is a big part of this years discussion. County officials spent all of Wednesday on the topic, something they have not previously done, the associations Executive Director Julie Ring said.

Walz said in an interview that, if elected, he would once again push for penny a pill. The idea, where pharmaceutical companies would pay a fee for the opioids they sell, was proposed this legislative session but did not pass.

The association has held similar gubernatorial candidate forums for the past couple elections, Ring said. As Johnson and Walz shape their policies and campaign issues its critical for them to know whats on the mind of county officials, and the pressures they face, she said.

Counties are essentially the administrative arm of the state, she said, on everything from health and human services to corrections to transportation. The policy that a governor sets is often delivered by local government.

Jessie Van Berkel 651-925-5044

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