Mark Dayton’s first speech as Minnesota governor illustrated the problems he faces.
While calling for teamwork to solve the state’s problems, the new governor on Monday also insisted that the rich need to pay higher taxes, something Republicans who take control of the state Legislature today strongly oppose.
Dayton offered no specifics in his inaugural speech, delivered to a packed Democrat-heavy crowd at St. Paul’s Landmark Center, after taking the oath of office to become Minnesota’s 40th governor.
He served notice that he will not back down from a campaign promise to raise taxes on the state’s richest residents.
“I will insist that any final solution make Minnesota’s overall tax burden more progressive, not more regressive,” he said.
Dayton said he understands that everyone would like to pay lower taxes, but it is “essential that everyone paying taxes knows everyone else is paying their fair share.”
If he can get those higher taxes for some, Dayton promised to make sure that tax dollars will fund a more efficient government.
Dayton’s inaugural speech contained no specifics, but the theme was “working together.” He used a variation of that phrase about a dozen times.
Monday’s inaugural and today’s opening of the legislative session set up the first time in four decades Republicans will control both the House and Senate and the first time in two decades a Democrat is in the governor’s office. In the last four years, Democrats have controlled both legislative chambers and Republican Tim Pawlenty was the state’s chief executive.
Dayton took the oath from Chief Justice Lorie Gildea and delivered a speech stretched to 14 minutes by applause. He wrote the speech himself.
After the inaugural event, attended by 600, Dayton and new Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon spent more than two hours visiting, shaking hands and signing autographs during a Capitol open house that attracted hundreds.
In his speech, he asked every business to adopt a school to provide financial and other support. He also urged Minnesotans to volunteer to help a school, hospital or social service agency.
The biggest challenge Dayton and lawmakers, who begin their 2011 session at noon today, face is how to deal with a $6.2 billion budget deficit. There is no clear pathway to solving the differences between the Democratic-Farmer-Laborite governor and Republican legislative leaders, but Dayton said it could be done.
“Previous generations of Minnesotans and other Americans faced graver danger, under worse conditions, with fewer resources than we do today,” Dayton said. “They summoned their collective knowledge, courage and resolve. They persevered. And they prevailed. By working together.”
Republicans say the state does not need to raise taxes. They propose cutting programs to fill the budget gap.
“We are committed to spending within our means,” Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said.
A Republican budget likely would be around $32 billion over two years, while a Dayton budget probably would top $38 billion.
Dayton, who at 63 is the oldest Minnesotan to become governor, told Republicans that he would welcome their budget ideas.
“To those who sincerely believe the state budget can be balanced with no tax increase, including no forced property tax increase, I say if you can do so without destroy our schools, hospitals and public safety, please send me your bill so I can sign it immediately,” he said.
Former Gov. Wendell Anderson, also a Democrat, said Dayton has an advantage because he is taking office at a time when Minnesotans know there already is a budget problem. That means Dayton will not be blamed, Anderson said.
Anderson, who was sworn in 40 years ago, said the new governor brings with him “the most impressive resume” of any Minnesota chief executive.
The ex-governor said he hopes legislative Republicans “wake up” and accept a modest tax income tax increase to help fund schools and local governments.
Former Gov. Arne Carlson could not be at Dayton’s event because of a family commitment and ex-Gov. Jesse Ventura did not attend. Pawlenty, Anderson and former Gov. Al Quie did attend.
Dayton gained the governor’s job by defeating two well-known Democrats in August’s primary election and then beating Republican Tom Emmer and Tom Horner of the Independence Party in November’s general election. However, it took until Dec. 8 for Emmer to concede because of the closeness of the race and a statewide recount of all 2.1 million ballots cast.
Dayton, who spent nearly two years running for governor, is one of the best-known Minnesotans to win that office. He has been in the public eye most of his life, beginning as a youngster who was heir to the Dayton Department Store fortune.
While his family long ago sold the chain, which beget Target, Dayton has been a public figure in his own right for 30 years. His political background includes being state auditor, serving as a Gov. Rudy Perpich commissioner twice and being U.S. senator for six years beginning 10 years ago.