Gov.-elect Walz: Expect a gas tax increase in next budget

Gov.-elect Tim Walz, who will face the only divided state legislature in the country, is promising to include a gas tax increase in his budget proposal due early next year.

Walz made the comments as he and Lt. Gov.-elect Peggy Flanagan visited their transition office inside the state Capitol on Thursday morning. It was their first trip to the Capitol since winning Tuesday's election over Republicans Jeff Johnson and Donna Bergstrom, 54-42 percent.

Walz's plan to seek a gas tax hike to pay for transportation projects will be an early challenge to his working relationship with Senate Republicans, who hold a one-seat majority. House Democrats regained control of that chamber during Tuesday's election.

"You can’t just say you’re not going to do anything in terms of revenue or budgets and you’re going to magically get roads, bridges and transit. So yes, you can expect to see (a tax increase proposed)," Walz told reporters.

In separate news conferences at the Capitol, Walz and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka pledged to work together. The two men, who do not know each other well, spoke by phone on Wednesday.

Still, on some issues, Gazelka agreed with an analogy that he'd be like a power forward in basketball, blocking shots from Walz and House Democrats. To pay for road improvements, Gazelka said the state should use money from a potential budget surplus.

"If you look at where Minnesota is as a taxed state, we have to make careful that we don’t become uncompetitive," he said.

Walz said his administration would be transparent, agreeing to make copies of his daily calendars available for public view.

He said his family would live in the governor's residence. But his wife, Gwen, said a decision had not been made whether to move in January or once their son finishes sixth grade next spring.

Walz said he would seek gun safety measures from the legislature, including a bill mandating universal background checks on gun sales.

Gazelka said there was "openness" in his caucus to the gun safety discussion, reflecting the GOP's narrow 34-33 advantage in the Senate.

Walz and Gazelka both said it was a priority to pass tax conformity legislation to align Minnesota's income tax form with the federal form. But Walz said it would be a "pretty tight window" to do it before Minnesotans file their taxes early next year.

The legislature, under full Republican control, passed a tax conformity bill last year before Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed it.

Walz also announced that he had hired attorney Chris Schmitter as his chief of staff. He did not name any cabinet members but said he was creating a transition advisory committee to assist with appointments.

"We have the opportunity in a divided government to show a unified voice of 'One Minnesota,'" Walz told reporters, referencing the theme of his campaign.