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Governor issues challenges in State of the State address

By Mike Cook
Gov. Mark Dayton delivers his State of the State address March 9 to a joint convention of the Legislature at the McNamara Alumni Center on the University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus. Photo by Paul Battaglia

A day after political partisanship was the order of the day during the first House floor session of the 2016 session, Gov. Mark Dayton issued a challenge to all legislators calling for unity on key issues.

“We succeed when we do what we have to do to be successful. We fail when we stop,” Dayton said during Wednesday night’s State of the State address. “That is why we can’t stop now. There is still so much that we must do. So many challenges and opportunities that, if we face them and seize this moment, will propel our state farther ahead.”

The speech, held at the McNamara Alumni Center on the University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus due to Capitol renovations, gave the state’s top elected official a chance to share his priorities before the Legislature gets too far into its 10-week session.

Joint Meeting of the Minnesota House and Minnesota Senate for the State of the State Address 3/9/16

“I thought the governor’s speech tonight was excellent,” House Minority Leader Paul Thissen (DFL-Mpls) said. “It’s nice to see someone who actually takes the job of governing seriously in this country these days compared to what’s going on at the presidential level, as an example. The governor demonstrated what our politics ought to be about. I’m proud to be a Minnesotan and have our governor be that kind of leader.”

House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) was “optimistic” after the governor’s remarks.

“While we may not agree on the path on the way to get there, we did find that there are some shared goals in his agenda and our agenda. … There are things that we can work on together.” 

Calling protecting the state’s fiscal integrity his top goal this session, Dayton was vague as to new proposals, noting his supplemental budget is to be released next Tuesday. The state currently has a projected $900 million surplus at the end of the current biennium on June 30, 2017, $300 million less than was forecast in November.

House and Senate Responses to the State of the State Address 3/9/16

“This does not mean that I will propose to do nothing with a fiscal impact in this legislative session,” Dayton said. “My supplemental budget next week will propose some more modest spending increases and middle-income tax cuts. But we must make our decisions over the next 10 weeks with a close eye on the next 10 years.

Dayton said his supplemental budget proposal will propose increasing the child care tax credit, and he will support federal tax conformities.

The governor said much of Minnesota’s success — individually and collectively — has come through hard work, be it farmers in fields, teachers in classrooms, or doctors in clinics.

“The corollary is that, if we stop working together, we stop making progress,” he said. “When we slacken our efforts, pause, or take a break, we fall behind.”

He said a perfect example of that is in transportation.

Despite a roughly $6 billion transportation funding shortfall over the next decade, lawmakers failed to pass a comprehensive transportation package last session that would have included money for road and bridge improvements, and possibly transit. While members from both sides of the aisle continue to say that passing a funding plan is a goal this session, they continue to differ in how to pay.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, left, introduces Gov. Mark Dayton at the 2016 State of the State address March 9. Photo by Andrew VonBank

The Republican-backed House plan would raise an additional $7 billion for roads and bridges over the next decade in part by redirecting motor vehicle-related tax revenue away from the state’s General Fund, identifying efficiencies in the Department of Transportation budget, and utilizing some of the state’s projected budget surplus.

Meanwhile, the DFL-backed package the Senate passed last spring proposes to raise roughly $11 billion for roads, bridges and transit by instituting a new gas tax and expanding a metro area transit-dedicated sales tax from one-quarter to three-quarters of a cent.

“I’m willing to be flexible, but I will also insist on a real solution,” Dayton said. “No smoke and mirrors. No double-counting existing revenues. No counting non-existent revenues. This is about construction projects, not campaign posters. And it’s too urgent to be left for another year.”

Early-childhood education

A primary policy effort from the governor in 2015, and again this year, is expanding access to pre-kindergarten for all 4-year-olds. A law enacted last year includes more than $95 million in additional funding for several existing prekindergarten and early learning programs that target children from low-income families.

Dayton wants more.

“There are disagreements over how and where to best provide those services, particularly for 4-year-olds. Some of those disagreements are professional; others are political. Sixty-thousand Minnesota 4-year-olds need Minnesota’s grown-ups to go beyond their big self-interests and place those little interests first.”

Water quality

In January, Dayton said he wants to invest nearly $220 million to modernize Minnesota’s drinking water systems and wastewater infrastructure as part of a larger borrowing plan.

He again challenged legislators to act now.

“All Minnesotans should have the right to clean, safe water, for their drinking, bathing, and recreation. No one else should be allowed to take it away from them. Assuring that safety is our legal and moral obligation.”

Other issues

Dayton spoke about of handful of other issues. The following are excerpts from those areas:

  • On extended unemployment benefits for laid-off Iron Range steelworkers being held up for unemployment tax reductions that businesses pay: “To hold $29 million of desperately needed unemployment benefits hostage to $272 million in fund cuts is unnecessary. And it’s cruel.”
  • Racial disparities: “We cannot resolve these disparities in one legislative session, but we must begin now. Next week, my supplemental budget will propose a significant initiative to provide better economic opportunities to Minnesotans of color all across our state.”
  • A sizable bonding bill: “Even though Minnesota ranks in the middle tier of states in bonded indebtedness, some believe minimal capital construction is in the public interest. I strongly disagree. If we unnecessarily limit the state’s capital investments, we unwisely limit its future.”
  • Clean Energy: “It’s clear that we need to do more to protect Minnesota’s climate — and the lungs of our children and grandchildren — by developing thousands of innovative, clean energy jobs.”
  • Giving the surplus back as a tax refund: “Our budget surpluses have resulted entirely from the income tax increases on the wealthiest 2 percent of Minnesotans and from more Minnesotans working, earning higher incomes, and thus paying higher taxes based on those higher incomes – not from higher tax rates.”

“Minnesota has always been at its best when we work together,” Dayton concluded. “We are better when we recognize and anticipate the challenges ahead, and come together as one Minnesota to create opportunities for every child, every family, every person to succeed.

“That is the Minnesota, which has built our success. That is the Minnesota that you and I must work together to achieve.”

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