Minnesota is a good state, but it could continue to become better, Gov. Mark Dayton said during his State of the State address Wednesday.
“While we have made great progress toward a better Minnesota, it should also serve as a reminder of the work left to do,” Dayton said. “The middle class is still struggling in our state and all over our country. There is still too much poverty and inequality. There is too much uncertainty and anxiety about the future.”
Throughout the address, the governor pointed to a number of ways the state has become better while highlighting areas for improvement and proposing possible solutions.
[Get the full text of the governor's speech here]
The number of jobs in Minnesota has increased by about 150,000 since he took office, Dayton said. He called Minnesota’s economic growth the fifth fastest in the country.
Such job growth is partly due to “financial partnerships” between businesses and state and local governments, he said, citing the Mayo Clinic expansion in Rochester, the new stadium in Minneapolis that will employ 7,500 construction workers, and other examples, including Shutterfly in Shakopee, AAR Corporation in Duluth and Viracon in Owatonna.
The state has invested in Department of Employment and Economic Development programs and created Minnesota’s Job Creation Fund. Since the fund’s start in January, business investments have created 550 jobs, Dayton said.
He noted the state’s phased increase in the minimum wage that would raise wages to $8 an hour in August and $9.50 an hour in two years. However, he said the wages are not high enough to bring families above the poverty line, but he said this increase will have a positive effect on workers and families.
“A higher minimum wage leads to more economic growth by rewarding hard work and improving workers’ productivity,” Dayton said.
Governor Mark Dayton's State of the State Address
The governor renewed his call for the passage of a $1.2 billion bonding bill. The House has offered an $850 million package and another that spends $125 million in cash. His proposal, Dayton said, would create more jobs and provide the funding for such projects as a $71 million pipeline that would boost the water supply to the cities of Luverne and Worthington.
“Without it, business growth is being stifled, new jobs are being lost, and residents are being forced to buy bottled water,” Dayton said.
The Senate has not yet offered a bonding bill, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) said advancing the amount that Dayton recommends in his speech “is the right conclusion for Minnesota.”
Dayton also called for the expansion of the state’s Angel Tax Credit program, which provides incentives to those who invest in certain startup companies. Expanding the program could help more new businesses succeed and bring in more jobs, he said.
Senate Minority Leader David Hann (R-Eden Prairie) did not agree with the governor’s view of job creation in the state. "The hardworking people of this state do a lot, and what we really need to do is adopt the policies in taxation and regulation that allow people to thrive, allow businesses to grow," he said. "In fact, this administration has been very bad on business and creating job opportunities for the people of this state. I think that's a huge problem. You can't have such a strong anti-business flavor and expect the economy to grow."
The governor spoke of a long list of accomplishments in the area of education:
increased funding that brought more money to the per-pupil aid formula and special education programs;
new anti-bullying legislation;
funding all-day kindergarten options for students in Minnesota school districts;
repaying the $2.8 billion the state borrowed from schools used to help balance previous state budgets;
increasing state funding to higher education by $248.5 million in 2013;
implementing a two-year freeze on tuition at the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Universities and College system;
establishing new principal and teacher evaluation standards; and
increased funding for early childhood education.
Dayton proposed the state commit to providing access to “quality, affordable early childhood education” to all 3- and 4-year-old children by 2018 to help close the achievement gap.
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To address what he sees as too many tests in the school system, the governor has asked the Department of Education to provide recommendations on the tests school districts could eliminate, streamline or combine.
Testing is not the problem, Hann said during the later press briefing. “I think we need to have sufficient testing to know that the investment we're making in education is working. There's been some retreat on that here in the Legislature. We have to get to the point of recognizing that good intentions and more money aren't enough. That's not what solves the problem we have in education. We've got to do things to free up the creativity of local school districts and parents and you don't do that by increasing the burdens on regulations here in St. Paul."
Dayton’s proposes adding more days to the Minnesota school calendar, which he described as one of the shortest in the country; extending school hours in the morning and evening to provide time to offer students breakfast and to give them after-school activities and tutoring; and hiring more guidance counselors to give students career guidance.
Dayton said that improvements are needed to roads, bridges, highways and transit systems. Pointing to some efficiencies, he noted that the Department of Transportation has found $50 million to fund a project to add a lane to Interstate 494 in Plymouth, but asking the department to become more efficient is not enough, he said.
He asked the 2015 Legislature to make transportation funding a priority. Bakk said that in the past month he has been laying the groundwork to “see if we can put a strong effort together at the Capitol next year from the business community and from the labor community to move a transportation package forward."
House Majority Leader Rep. Erin Murphy (DFL-St. Paul) was pleased with the governor’s proposals in transportation and education.
"I am really excited to hear him talk about our future,” Murphy said. “From transportation to all-day, everyday K, which is going to go into effect this fall, and to universal pre-K, he is talking about a future where Minnesotans from the middle class out are going to be prosperous and have economic opportunity and security for the future."
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) had a different take on the governor’s address. "What we learned tonight is that the governor is very good at taking credit, but not very good at taking responsibility. There are a lot of policies that have been passed, including the largest spending increase in state history and one of the largest tax increases in state history. And, frankly, at a time, that he even admitted, that Minnesotans are struggling. The policies put into place aren't going to help Minnesotans, but they're going to drive jobs out of the state of Minnesota."