Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, made his opposition clear Thursday during a news conference, one day after Walz detailed his plan for the so-called SAFE Account. Senate Republicans, in their own counter-proposal, suggest mutual aid costs should come out of Minneapolis’ Local Government Aid, or LGA, which is state money meant to help local governments pay for police and fire departments, among other expenses.
The debate comes a little more than a month before ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is to stand trial on murder charges in the May 2020 death of George Floyd — a trial that local leaders fear will lead to violent demonstrations.
The Department of Public Safety has been coordinating a plan for law enforcement presence 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.
Walz’s proposal is for the state to set aside a $35 million pot for local police departments to tap into to help pay for mutual aid requests from other departments when they need backup for extraordinary unrest, as was seen in the metro area last summer or at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. The funds could be used for any police department in the state that needs backup next month or in the future.
Gazelka and legislative Republicans have dubbed the proposal a “bailout” for the city of Minneapolis. And they said local leaders there have understaffed the city’s police department, and should ultimately be responsible to pay for mutual aid themselves. Instead of the state footing the bill for mutual aid, they said it should come out of the city’s own budget, from their yearly LGA.
“Minneapolis should be expected to have adequate police,” Gazelka said. “I don’t think that’s asking too much, that when they cut over 100 police officers that they need to first be responsible that they have an adequate police force.”
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.”
Gazelka during his earlier Thursday conference 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.
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 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.
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.
Contact Sarah Mearhoff at firstname.lastname@example.org or 610-790-4992.