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Expanded Capitol security, increased license plate fee part of Walz's transportation budget

Increased security at the State Capitol, pictured here surrounded by a security fence in June 2020, is part of Gov. Tim Walz's proposed transportation budget. Photo by Paul Battaglia

Beefed up Capitol security, body cameras for state troopers and an increase in license plate fees are some of the more noteworthy items included in the public safety provisions of the COVID-19 Recovery Budget proposal released late last month by Gov. Tim Walz.

Members of the House Transportation Finance and Policy Committee on Tuesday had the opportunity to learn more about those requests and others during an informational hearing on HF1027, sponsored by Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Mpls), which includes the transportation and public safety portions of the proposal.

The companion, SF957, is sponsored by Sen. Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson) and awaits action by the Senate Transportation Finance and Policy Committee.

Hornstein emphasized the hearing is “a courtesy” to the governor and the committee would eventually craft proposed legislation of its own.

“We may take some of these provisions, but we will do our own bill,” Hornstein said, adding that the committee would give the governor’s requests serious consideration.

House transportation panel hears Gov. Walz's proposed transportation budget 02/23/21

Tuesday’s hearing only dealt with certain portions of the bill – Article 1, Section 4 and Article 4 — that involve budgets for two arms of the Department of Public Safety: Minnesota State Patrol and Driver and Vehicle Services Division.

Col. Matt Langer, who leads the patrol, said his agency has a $5 million budget deficit related to work it has done to strengthen security at the State Capitol after January’s insurrection in Washington D.C., and various protests during the last year that he said have been unrelenting.

The state patrol’s budget request includes $5.08 million in the current fiscal year to cover that deficit and another $12.4 million in the upcoming biennium to upgrade security at the Capitol by adding 34 dedicated security positions, including 21 state troopers, and providing other enhancements. The proposal also includes a $4.02 million annual addition to the base budget to pay for those positions moving forward.

A request for $8.08 million is to purchase, deploy and manage body-worn cameras for troopers. Langer said troopers are proud of the work they do and would welcome the devices. He said the state patrol is “quickly becoming antiquated as a law enforcement agency” compared to the many others in the state and around the country that already use cameras.

Langer said the money would allow the patrol to outfit all of its officers including troopers, Capitol Security and commercial motor vehicle inspectors. “We’re talking about 700 to 800 devices deployed, so it’s a very significant undertaking but it’s one that’s really important.”

Some of the major Driver and Vehicle Services Division budget requests include:

  • $8.8 million for 30 additional staff positions to improve customer satisfaction, reduce backlogs and make improvements to exam stations. The request also includes $2.7 million in ongoing funding; and
  • $2.4 million in fiscal year 2022 for temporary staff to help meet the Oct. 1, 2021 REAL ID deadline.

Director Emma Corrie said the division would also like to increase most license plate fees to $13.50 or $15.50, depending on the type of plate, because current fees do not cover the costs of making the plates. The increases would make the division “self-sufficient” and end its dependence on highway user taxes to cover that deficit, she said.

It is expected the fee hike would raise $8.2 million annually.

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