Column: Surplus news indicative of proper direction
By Gov. Mark Dayton
ST. PAUL — The principal credit for Minnesota’s terrific budget forecast belongs to the people of Minnesota. We proved again that we have the best business innovators and the most productive workers anywhere. By working hard and working together, we turned a $6 billion deficit predicted just 3 years ago, into a projected surplus of $1.086 billion over the next 18 months.
The financial experts, who prepared this forecast, made it clear that these surpluses are being generated by our state’s exceptionally strong economic growth. Minnesota’s economic recovery leads most states and the nation. A total of 122,000 more people are working in Minnesota today than when I became governor in January 2011. The growth in our total state economy last year was the fifth best in the nation.
It is important to note, however, that this recovery has not helped everyone. There are 142,000 Minnesotans still looking for work, and many others cannot find the jobs they want. There are still unacceptable gaps in education, job opportunities and income among our citizens.
We have more work to do, but we are getting better.
It is sometimes hard to believe good economic news about Minnesota. Mostly we hear from the critics, who claim our policies are driving businesses and jobs elsewhere. Some of them even tried to make this recent good news look bad. They seem unhappy that our state’s economy is improving — because it doesn’t fit with their policy views or political ambitions.
Nevertheless, there is more good news. We have repaid all of the $2.8 billion previously borrowed from school districts. After a decade of education funding cuts, we are reinvesting in our schools and our schoolchildren — with early childhood scholarships, all-day kindergarten and two-year tuition freezes at state colleges and universities.
Those investments are already showing results. Seventy-three of Minnesota’s youngest children are now rated “ready for kindergarten,” compared with 60 percent in 2009. Our fourth-grade students tested No. 1 in the nation for math and placed 10th in reading, up from 22nd two years earlier. And, for the eighth straight year, our high school seniors placed first in the ACT, a nationwide college entrance exam.
The Minnesota Legislature has also enabled us to increase our investments with private companies throughout Minnesota in development projects that will create thousands of new jobs. Those public-private partnerships include growing manufacturing facilities in Owatonna, Sauk Rapids and Duluth, an expanded Research & Development facility at 3M’s corporate headquarters in Oakdale, and a major expansion by Rochester’s Mayo Clinic into a Destination Medical Center. The new stadium in Minneapolis has already attracted a $400 million office project next to it, which is that city’s largest private development in a generation.
This economic recovery confirms the wisdom of “The Minnesota Model” for economic success and social vitality. We are not a low-tax haven, like Mississippi, Alabama, China or Cambodia. We know that those low taxes are usually accompanied by low wages, under-funded public education, weak environmental protection, and high crime rates.
Instead, we choose to be a high value state. We provide very good public school educations, which together with our citizens’ exceptional abilities produce a most reliable, hard-working and productive workforce. We have built an extensive transportation network which, while currently lacking adequate funding, has historically met the needs of Minnesota businesses and citizens. We provide incentives for companies to expand here and create new jobs. And we offer the very best health care, recreation, quality of people and quality of life anywhere.
Should we be satisfied with this progress? Certainly not. To the contrary, we must work even harder to create more good jobs for middle-income Minnesotans, reduce income gaps for others and assure even better futures for our children and grandchildren. However, our progress proves that what we are doing to get Minnesota working again is working.
So, let’s keep making progress.