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Dayton gives State of the State address

Minnesota state Rep. Ron Hamilton of Mountain Lake, left, talks to Chue Chou Tchang, national president of a Hmong military veterans’ group, before the State of the State speech Wednesday night. Hamilton invited Tchang to be his guest at the speech. Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — Minnesota is in good shape, Gov. Mark Dayton declared Wednesday night, taking some of the credit while saying more work remains.

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Among his hopes as the 2014 legislative session winds down is paying more for public works projects than legislative leaders had planned.

In his annual State of the State speech, the Democratic governor said he wants a $1.2 billion public works financing bill so the state can do things like build the Lewis and Clark water system in southwestern Minnesota. Such projects, he said, would mean “jobs now and jobs in the future.”

Projects such as Lewis and Clark, college improvements and state park work are funded in a bill with revenue gained from the state selling bonds.

The governor’s request is $200,000 more than legislative leaders agreed to spend over two years.

His prepared speech shows a governor emphasizing jobs.

“Farmers, steel workers, loggers, plant workers, construction crews, teachers, nurses, truck drivers, corporate executives and public employees ... are living proof that we have always earned our success by working harder, by managing better, by innovating smarter, by producing more efficiently.”

The governor pointed to several Minnesota businesses doing well: “Cargill. Marvin. Andersen. Carlson. Digi-Key. Toro. Schwan’s. Polaris. Arctic Cat. Magnetation. Medtronic. Mayo. They, and too many others to mention, began with an entrepreneur with an idea.”

Dayton’s speech came less than three weeks before the Legislature must adjourn for the year, a date the state Legislative Reference Library says is the latest State of the State on record. He delayed the address because hip surgery he underwent earlier in the year has curtailed his movement.

Instead of making a grand entry down the center aisle of the House, where governors traditionally shake hands with lawmakers in both parties, Dayton avoided the long walk by entering via a back door to the House chamber.

Governors normally use State of the State events to promote items they want to pass during that legislative session. Coming so late in the legislative session, Dayton’s speech was expected to have little influence on issues remaining to be decided this year.

Most observers considered the speech Dayton’s first major campaign speech of the year.

Dayton is seeking a second four-year term, but his hip problem has kept him off the campaign trail. His running mate, former Chief of Staff Tina Smith, is traveling the state.

Earlier this year, Dayton said he did not expect to campaign until after the Legislature adjourns.

Besides a bigger public works bill than legislators are considering, Dayton called for more “investments” for jobs, education and other priorities.

Dayton said he is asking his Education Department to find ways to reduce the number of state-required tests in Minnesota schools.

“Last year, I’m very sorry to say, our state went backwards,” Dayton said. “More tests were mandated in the upper grade levels. I’m told some tests are required by state statute. Others are necessary to satisfy federal requirements. Still others are added by local school districts. They may make sense individually; but added all together, they do not.”

Senate Republicans, in their own State of the State comments, said Minnesota is strong, but “the question is whether the path the governor has chosen will keep Minnesota strong for the next decade and provide opportunities for our citizens to prosper.”

The Senate GOP statement attacked Dayton and fellow Democrats for raising spending and taxes last year. Republican budgets, the statement said, allowed the economy to recover from last decade’s recession.

“In the middle of this recovery, Gov. Dayton and the Democrats decided to raise taxes over $2 billion, hitting all families and businesses, not just the rich as he promised,” Republicans said.

The GOP said that “more money and good intentions are not enough. We need ideas and solutions that actually work to keep our state on the path to growth and opportunity in the years to come.”

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.