Gov. Mark Dayton struck a cordial tone at the Minnesota Business Partnership annual dinner Monday night, focusing the conversation on job creation, education reform and other issues where the liberal governor has found common ground with the state’s business leaders.
In a lineup of speakers that included former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Dayton was the first to address the sold-out crowd of about 800 business leaders and politicos. US BanCorp chairman and CEO Richard Davis introduced Dayton, describing the governor as a “frustrated hockey goalie.”
“It’s a thankless job. No one ever comes up and says, ‘hey, thanks for all the saved goals,'” Davis said. “You are always just there to defend, always there to protect, and more often than not you are not thanked and not congratulated enough.”
Dayton made sure to highlight the work he and both DFL and GOP legislative majorities have done on education reform during his first term as governor, citing the teacher and principal evaluations that passed with Republican support, and the funding for all-day kindergarten DFL legislators approved last session.
“Legislators from both parties played important leadership roles and deserve to share the credit for raising the standards for students, teachers, principals, achievement and testing,” Dayton said. “Our schools deserve still better, and they’re going to get it.”
Dayton also touted the number of jobs that have been created since he took office in 2011 — more than 122,000, he said. Dayton has made public subsidies for businesses a focus of his first term, and he cited projects like the Mayo Clinic’s Destination Medical Center in Rochester as well as expansions at 3M, Toro and General Mills. He said he plans to work with the University of Minnesota’s medical school to try to make the area the “Silicon Valley” for health care. Dayton even thanked the Vikings for staying in Minnesota, despite weeks of tension between the governor and the team owners over funding for the project and the cost of personal seat licenses in the new venue.
“This is a bad time to talk about a new football stadium,” Dayton said. “But it will be much better when thousands of Minnesotans are working to build it.”
The governor didn’t walk away without mentioning tax increases, a touchy subject with the business crowd, many of whom have been calling on Dayton to repeal a series of business-to-business tax increases passed last session.
“I realize that most of you are unhappy with my raising some taxes to balance the state’s budget last spring. I was just as unhappy about the need to do so,” Dayton said. He added that, next biennium, he would like to see any surplus that’s left over after school debt repayments used on tax reductions. “If I’m in office, I want to devote much of that surplus to serious tax reductions,” Dayton told the crowd. “I don’t expect you to believe this, just remember it.”