Dayton: Minnesota must 'invest to progress'by Tim Pugmire, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Gov. Mark Dayton called for bipartisan cooperation Wednesday in his first State of the State message.
But he stood by his plan to raise taxes to help erase the state's projected $6.2 billion budget deficit, and Republican lawmakers called that unacceptable.
Dayton is due to release his budget plan next week, and despite the state's money problems he said in his speech he will call for new investments.
Dayton said the state must invest to make progress. He didn't say how much he wants to spend, but his list of targeted investments includes more jobs, better education, improved transportation, transformation of government services and the health of citizens, communities and the environment.
With a record budget deficit looming, Dayton called for bipartisan cooperation and compromise. He also called on lawmakers to avoid a budget impasse that could lead to a government shutdown.
"It is absolutely unthinkable that we would even contemplate doing so here in Minnesota," he said. "I ask you, legislators. I invite you, I implore you -- to join with me now, right here in our Capitol, and pledge to the people of Minnesota that we will not shut down their government, our government -- not next July 1, not any July 1, not any day, ever."
Dayton repeated his pledge to increase funding for K-12 schools every year he's in office. He said his transportation commissioner will begin looking at ways to finance road and bridge improvements, while some of his other key advisors will work on identifying cost savings in government operations.
Dayton outlined an agenda for job creation that includes outreach to businesses, and a public works bonding bill. But the governor sounded almost apologetic in noting that some of the business leaders he's counting on to invest in Minnesota will also be the target of his proposed income tax increase.
"Some will criticize me for proposing next week to ask those successful businessmen and women and other wealthy Minnesotans to pay higher taxes," said Dayton. "I ask them for their forbearance during this fiscal crisis, which I did not create, but inherited, and now, with you in the Legislature, must solve. I ask Minnesota's business leaders and other most successful citizens to give us two years to turn this Ship of State around."
Dayton went on to ask Minnesotans not to judge him based on the budget he'll submit Tuesday. He said he was left with a "horrendous" financial mess and poorly managed state agencies.
After the speech, Republicans were doing some of their own judging. House Speaker Kurt Zellers said he thought Dayton spent too much time looking backward and not enough time looking forward.
"If you take away all the fancy words -- investment and reinvestment -- it's tax and spend," said Zellers. "It's more government programs. It's more government spending by raising taxes."
Zellers said Dayton's concern about a government shutdown came from left field, and has never been brought up during their private meetings.
GOP Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch said she thinks Dayton is making spending promises he cannot afford, and is pushing a tax proposal with no Republican support and few DFL backers. Koch said she also thought Dayton's message was too pessimistic.
"We can, all day, look back at 'Well, how did we get here?' and bemoan that fact, but we didn't come here for that," said Koch. "We came here because we told the people that we wanted to create a business-friendly environment in the state, we wanted to rein in spending and we wanted to reform government."
Democrats offered only positive reviews of the speech. Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk said he was impressed by Dayton and his message.
"He used the word 'Please.' He said, 'Minnesotans that are doing really well, please help us get our state turned around.' And I guess I would ask the same thing. And I stand ready to work with Gov. Dayton to get our state turned around," he said.
Bakk stopped short of embracing Dayton's proposed income tax increase. He said he hasn't yet seen the governor's proposal.