Wayzata hosted five of the six Republican candidates for Minnesota governor last week.

The candidates are aiming to run on the Republican ticket against Democratic Gov. Tim Walz in 2022. The GOP nod will be decided during the primary election in August.

The debate was held at the Hotel Landing and was moderated by KSTP reporter Tom Hauser. The candidates who took the stage were Neil Shah, former Sen. Scott Jensen, Sen. Paul Gazelka, Sen. Michelle Benson and Lexington Mayor Mike Murphy. Mark Marti, owner of Marti Electric in Kasson, was the lone Republican candidate who did not participate in the debate.

One of the most hotly debated topics in the state is how it should handle a projected budget surplus of more than $7.7 billion.

Murphy argued the money, which in part comes from CARES Act funds and the state’s reserves, should directly benefit residents of Minnesota.

“That’s an awful lot of money. I would make sure the people get it back because that’s the people’s money,” he said. “We don’t need to raise taxes on our small businesses, especially when it comes to this unemployment insurance.”

Benson said the state needs to find long-term tax cuts to make Minnesota more competitive for landing workers and business.

“We need permanent, long-term tax cuts that get us out of the top five — out of the top 10,” she said. “We are becoming anti-competitive. We need to get rid of the social security tax completely because we are chasing grandpas and grandmas out of this state.”

Shah rebutted there has been a budget surplus of $1 billion or more for several budget cycles.

“Has that money made its way back to you?” he asked. “No. There are people on the stage — career politicians — who refuse to give that money back to you because they might be forced to make spending cuts if and when there’s a downfall.”

The candidates all agreed they were not satisfied with Gov. Walz actions relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. Each said they have had COVID but only three are vaccinated. Jensen, who is not vaccinated, said he would not take a vaccine. Murphy is also not vaccinated.

“I have a better and more robust immune system working for me than I would get from a two-step Pfizer,” Jensen said.

Gazelka said he and his wife have both been vaccinated.

“The older you are the more you have to look at the science of if it benefits you or not,” he said. “The younger you are, I don’t see any real benefit.”

Minnesota has recorded 9,872 COVID related deaths since the start of the pandemic, including 58 newly reported deaths according to the MDPH.