Dayton pleads for cooperation in State of the State address
By Don Davis
State Capitol Bureau
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton pleaded with Republicans who control the Legislature for cooperation today as the state faces a $6.2 billion budget deficit.
In his first State of the State speech, Democrat Dayton said that a government shutdown should never happen because the two sides do not work together to solve budget problems.
"Compromise doesn't mean we have to agree, thank goodness, because we won't," Dayton said in a tough speech in which he gave no ground on his major priorities. "It doesn't mean we can't debate, because we will. It means we can disagree, debate and then reach a shared solution to our state's problems."
Dayton asked the Minnesotans to accept a new higher tax rate on the richest in the state, to be part of a budget he proposes on Tuesday. He said that he still wants to increase school funding, including providing money for all-day kindergarten statewide.
"To progress, we have to invest," he said.
The Democratic governor said that the state's economy took a turn for the worst under Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Gov. Jesse Ventura of the Independence Party.
"Last December, there were over 77,000 more Minnesotans unemployed than in December 2002, just before Gov. Pawlenty took office," Dayton said.
"And it is worth noting that this decade of poor economic performance followed two consecutive cuts in the state income tax rates by Gov. Ventura and that Minnesota Legislature in 1999 and 2000," he added
Lower taxes have hurt education, Dayton said, reminding 201 legislators sitting in the House chamber that education is his top priority.
During Pawlenty's term, education spending fell 14 percent, when inflation is factored in, the governor said. Ten school districts have gone to four-day weeks to save money.
Much of the speech concentrated on education, but he discussed other issues, too.
Dayton said the most important thing state leaders can do is to help businesses "believe in Minnesota, to invest in our state, and to create more jobs for the thousands of our citizens who want to work."
He pledged to go anywhere in the world to recruit new business.
At the same time, he promised to make state government more efficient.
"We need transform how we provide our citizens with the best public services, most efficiently, at the lowest cost," he said, giving no specifics.
"This is a clear but daunting challenge: How do we improve government services and performance while we also cut costs?" Dayton said.
Dayton said students, parents, teachers and drivers all want a better Minnesota.
Improvements will take more investment, he said. In politics, "investment" often translates into higher taxes.
He called for more transportation funding. State transportation investments are inadequate, he said, and "further deterioration will seriously constrict our future economic growth and damage our social vitality."
Dayton assigned Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorel to give legislators his ideas about how to improve transportation, but also asked them to create a finance authority to further look into the funding issue.
The governor thanked troops, especially a Hastings family in the House gallery: 1st Sgt. Gary Wenzel, his wife Cathy, and their 18-year-old son, PFC Todd Wenzel.
"1st Sgt. Wenzel has been deployed twice," Dayton said. "During his 18-month tour in Iraq in 2004-05, Cathy Wenzel founded 'Project Backpack,' for military sons and daughters; and another organization, 'Minnesota Veteran Family Support,' providing families with services before, during, and after military deployment.
"Today, the Wenzel's oldest son, Andrew, is on his way to Afghanistan; and Todd will be deploying with the 1st Brigade Combat Team later this spring."
Legislators and others at the speech gave the Wenzel family an extended standing ovation.
Dayton also pointed out five education leaders in the audience, including Efe Agbamu, Cottage Grove Park High School's principal, who is the state's secondary principal of the year.
"She is recognized for her 'ability to achieve academic and community goals, for improving teaching and learning and encouraging a positive school environment for staff and students,'" Dayton said.
Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.