Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton says he and the Legislature should try to work together like they did in restoring the Capitol building.
In his final State of the State speech Wednesday, March 14, the Democratic governor looked back at his two terms in office and ahead to tasks remaining during his final 299 days on the job. As a model about how to get things done in the final two months of this year’s legislative session, and beyond, Dayton used a $300 million Capitol renovation.
“Just a few short years ago (it) was in dangerous disrepair…” he said Wednesday night, March 14, to a joint session of the Minnesota Legislature. “But all of us here set partisanship aside. Look at what we accomplished by working together. Just imagine what more we can do if we continue.”
The lawmakers and their guests rose to applaud as Dayton ended his 30-minute speech on that note.
Later, House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said Dayton’s Capitol restoration example should set the tone for the rest of the session.
But it will not be easy. The Democrat’s speech was filled with items Republicans cannot accept.
One topic was health care, where he used Butterfield farmers Terese and Brian Romsdahl, who were in the audience, as examples. He said they are paying $33,000 for health insurance at a time when the prices they are paid for their products are low.
“That’s outrageous and it’s wrong,” the governor said.
Dayton used the opportunity to promote his idea of expanding MinnesotaCare, originally set up for low-income people, to be available to more Minnesotans. The GOP will not allow that.
“Minnesota has not been a low tax state during my career,” he said. “And it’s fortunate, because states with the lowest taxes generally rank among the lowest in per capita income, household income, educational attainment, home ownership and public health.”
He promoted his public works funding plan, known as a bonding bill. He wants to borrow $1.5 billion, but Republicans are talking about something closer to $850 million.
Dayton asked for gun regulations; Republicans rejected it.
Dayton criticized tax cuts that Republicans have shepherded; Republicans credited them for a good economy.
Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said they can find things in common and work on those issues this legislative session.
For instance, Gazelka said, they agree that work must be done in the Legislature to change state law to better match new federal tax law, or Minnesotans may face a $500 million larger tax bill.
Also, the state’s vehicle registration, license and title computer system needs millions of dollars to fix.
Daudt added that all can agree on working to make schools safer and ease the opioid crisis.
“Things that divide us that the governor talked about are not going to happen,” Gazelka said.
Wednesday night’s speech was Dayton’s eighth and last annual State of the State. After 40 years in public service, the 71-year-old says he will not run for office again. His term ends in 299 days, early next January.
As he started his speech, Dayton referred to last year, when he collapsed due to dehydration: “Some people have suggested I conclude my speech now, to make certain I can walk out by myself. However, this is my final State of the State address, and there is more I want to say.”
Democrats praised Dayton’s legacy, and urged fellow lawmakers to do better.
“We have seen our nation-leading rate of those with health insurance tumble, our state pension obligations go unmet, and our state employee contracts have languished since Republicans took charge of the full Minnesota Legislature,” Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said. “Students are carrying too much of the financial burden of higher education on their backs. I look forward to working with the governor in his final year in office to address the challenges our great state still faces.”
What Dayton said
Some excerpts from Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton’s State of the State speech, as prepared for delivery:
- “I believe most of us are incredibly fortunate to live in Minnesota. Despite our challenges, there is nowhere else that compares. Previous generations worked hard to build and then leave us what we have here. Now it’s our responsibility to make it still better for generations to come.”
- “If we, and our successors, preserve our state’s fiscal integrity and invest our present tax system’s revenues in even better education, infrastructure and transportation, we will continue to offer better jobs, with higher incomes and other benefits to our residents. If we don’t, we won’t.”
- “Business after business tells me the No. 1 reason they are locating or expanding in Minnesota is because of the superb quality of our workers.”
- “In addition to the $105.7 million in last year’s bonding bill, I would provide the Public Facilities Authority with an additional $167 million to ensure that more Minnesotans have the clean water they need. Over 170 local water infrastructure projects across our state cannot move forward without this funding.”
- “People quickly ask, ‘What are my other options?’ Right now, for affordable health insurance, they have none. However, this Legislature has the opportunity, and the responsibility, to offer Minnesotans another option. For 26 years, MinnesotaCare has given lower-income working families quality, affordable choices when purchasing their health insurance. I believe we should give all Minnesotans that option.”