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Moving forward: Dayton says happy with work so far, but more is needed

MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said Wednesday night he is happy for accomplishments during his first five years in office, but used his annual State of the State speech to say the state needs to do more.

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Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton says in his State of the State speech Wednesday night that his top priority is to save the state’s fiscal condition. Don Davis/Forum News Service

MINNEAPOLIS - Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said Wednesday night he is happy for accomplishments during his first five years in office, but used his annual State of the State speech to say the state needs to do more.

“We find ourselves at a crossroads…” the governor said in remarks prepared for delivery. “Over the last five years we have made great progress toward a better Minnesota. We can continue down that road and build a state that works even better for all Minnesotans. Or, we can reverse course and retreat to where we were just a few years ago: Doing less and getting less.”
Dayton said progress during his administration did not come because state government did less with less money, a comment aimed squarely at Republicans although he did not specifically mention them.
He told about adding early-childhood funding, flood control efforts, responding to bird flu, increasing the minimum wage, signing a law to allow same-sex marriage, freezing tuitions at state-run colleges and providing statewide property tax relief.
“We must make our decisions over the next 10 weeks with a close eye on the next 10 years,” Dayton said.
The Democratic governor said his top priority in the 2016 legislative session, which started Tuesday and ends by May 23, will be “to protect the fiscal integrity of our state government.”
He said that a recently announced budget surplus of $900 million is lower than expected, which “should give serious pause” to people seeking state money.
Dayton pushed the need to extend unemployment benefits for Iron Range workers laid off during a steel crisis.
“I will hold the speaker, and House Republicans, to their commitments the last couple months to provide 26 weeks of extended unemployment benefits retroactively to those good men and women on the Iron Range, who, through no fault or choice of their own, have been victimized by illegal dumping of foreign steel into this country,” Dayton said. “If you keep those promises - and send the Iron Range families the unemployment benefits they need and have earned - I will sign that legislation this week. If you don’t, it will be a broken promise that people will long remember.”

House Democrats and Republicans could not agree Tuesday on how to pass the unemployment extension bill, but senators are expected to pass it this afternoon. It is possible the House could take it up later in the day.
The governor also promoted his efforts to clean the state’s water, including providing $220 million in low-interest loans and grants for small, rural communities in areas where water is impaired.
“It will not be enough,” he said, “but it will be a start.”
Dayton delivered his address at the University of Minnesota McNamara Alumni Center, which was set up for 440 people.
While governors normally give their State of the State speeches to a joint House-Senate session in the House chamber, the Capitol is under construction and the House chamber’s capacity now is barely more than the 201 legislators.
Still, Dayton is not alone in delivering the speech away from the Capitol, although his was the first one in Minneapolis. Others have been in Bloomington (twice), Rochester (twice), St. Cloud, Hutchinson and Winona.
Then-Gov. Jesse Ventura delivered one speech at his official residence and one year did not have one.
The Minnesota Constitution requires a governor to address the Legislature each session, but a session is two years and some governors have skipped them during the second year.
One former governor, Wendy Anderson, was in the audience Wednesday night, along with leaders of many Minnesota communities, including Aurora Council Member Dave Lislegard, Duluth Mayor Emily Larson, Fergus Falls Mayor Hal Leland, Moorhead Mayor Del Rae Williams, Morris City Administrator Blaine Hill, Worthington Mayor Mike Kuhle and Mankato Mayor Eric Anderson.

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Minnesota state Rep. Rod Hamilton of Mountain Lake watches Gov. Mark Dayton deliver his State of the State speech Wednesday night. Don Davis/Forum News Service

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