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Dayton touts progress on economy, education in State of the State

Mike Mullen//May 1, 2014

Dayton touts progress on economy, education in State of the State

Mike Mullen//May 1, 2014

Gov. Mark Dayton gave the fourth and final State of the State address of his first term on Wednesday night, highlighting points of pride from his time in office and outlining his plan for continued economic growth in the state. In his 45-minute address to a joint session of the Legislature, Dayton reflected on a tumultuous time in office and pushed for renewed commitments to spending on education, infrastructure and economic development.

The governor opened his speech by recalling a passage from his inaugural State of the State in 2011, in which he’d challenged the Legislature to commit state resources toward key needs.

“In other words,” Dayton said Wednesday, “we have to invest in growth, quality and effectiveness.”

Dayton pointed out that the 2.8 million Minnesotans currently employed is 150,000 more than when he took office, and the highest number in state history. He drew attention to economic development investments made in both outstate towns and the metro area. Among the latter, Dayton spoke about the new Minnesota Vikings stadium, which pairs $498 million in public funds with $477 million from the NFL and the franchise. The governor described the downtown stadium and an adjacent office park as “just the beginning of the area’s revitalization.”

The stadium was the largest and highest-profile public funding agreement to emerge from the 2012 Legislature, and its 2013 counterpart also received a mention in the speech. Dayton said the Rochester Mayo Clinic’s Destination Medical Center, which comes with a combined state investment of up to $585 million, would be a boon to that city’s development and the state’s reputation as a top destination for medical treatment.

“It will establish Minnesota as one of the world’s best locations for advanced medical research, the development of new medical treatments and technologies, and the thousands of good new jobs they will create,” Dayton said.

Regarding education, Dayton thanked legislators for making it a priority to pay back all of the $2.8 billion in school shift debt owed. That amount was whittled down after its use to close a budget gap in 2011, and the last of the outstanding debt was repaid last November.

“Now, school districts can put their money into classrooms, not bank loans,” Dayton said.

The governor also said improvements had been made in the state’s delivery and oversight of health care, especially relating to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. That controversial law had brought health insurance to an additional 206,000 Minnesotans, said Dayton, who defended the state’s troubled health insurance exchange.

“MNsure didn’t start well,” he conceded, “but it’s gotten better, and it will keep on improving.”

The speech also included references to a pair of highly publicized pieces of social legislation that had passed since Democrats regained majorities in both the House and Senate. Dayton said legalizing same-sex marriage would “add to the well-being of many of our citizens,” and argued the recent passage of school anti-bullying legislation was an important step for education reform.

“Children don’t learn at school if they are scared, or made to feel bad about themselves,” he said.

Following the speech, DFL leaders agreed with Dayton’s version of the events of the past few years, with Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk calling the speech a “very powerful recap.” House Majority Leader Erin Murphy said Dayton was right to be proud of all-day kindergarten and universal pre-K programs.

“[Dayton] is talking about a future where Minnesotans in the middle class and out are going to be prosperous, and have economic opportunity,” Murphy said.

Republican responses said Dayton was giving too much credit to the Democrats for the state’s economic turnaround, and warned that taxes and spending approved by the DFL and Dayton would be detrimental to the state economy. Senate Minority Leader David Hann said Dayton’s address was “kind of a campaign speech,” and gave little weight to pledges Dayton made about future plans.

“He spent a lot of time talking about next year, but we don’t know who’s going to be the governor next year,” Hann said.

Three different Republican gubernatorial candidates took in Dayton’s speech from the floor: Rep. Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, and former House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, who was on hand as a guest of his running mate, Rep. Pam Myhra, R-Burnsville.

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