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Dayton spells out legislative plan

MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton laid out a plan for the 2016 legislative session Wednesday night, ranging from expanding broadband high-speed Internet to increasing education funding to cleaning the state's water.The Democrat said littl...

Mark Dayton
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 laid out a plan for the 2016 legislative session Wednesday night, ranging from expanding broadband high-speed Internet to increasing education funding to cleaning the state’s water.
The Democrat said little new in his annual State of the State speech, delivered at the University of Minnesota, but he clearly showed his differences with Republicans on many fronts.
The governor used transportation funding as an example of how he differs from Republicans. He wants to add to new gasoline tax as part of his solution while Republicans want to divert other taxes.
“I’m waiting for an alternative,” he told a crowd of more than 400, including most of the state’s 201 legislators. “I’m willing to be flexible, but I will also insist on a real solution. No smoke and mirrors. No double-counting existing revenues. No counting non-existent revenues. This is about construction projects, not campaign posters. And it’s too urgent to be left for another year.”
He said that he is happy for accomplishments during his first five years in office, but said more needs to be done.
“We find ourselves at a crossroads…” the governor said. “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.”
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 about the legislative session.
Legislative reaction generally was positive, but House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, noted that Dayton took several swipes at the GOP.
Assistant House Majority Leader Dave Baker, R-Willmar, said he “did not get a real negative tone from him.”
Baker, saying “I thought it was a good speech,” said he was especially interested in hearing Dayton’s continued support for expanding broadband through rural Minnesota.
Sen. Lyle Koenen, D-Clara City, said that Dayton likely will not get the $100 million for broadband that he wants, but the senator said he hopes lawmakers approve $70 million.
Dayton told about communities that benefit from high-speed Internet, including Bemidji.
“Bemidji has seen new business openings in diversified fields, due, in large part, to the city’s high-speed Internet access,” the governor said. “Four Bemidji businesses were recently ranked among the fastest-growing in the United States by Inc. Magazine.”
Dayton pushed the need to extend unemployment benefits for thousands of Iron Range workers laid off during a national 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.
He warned GOP lawmakers that if they don’t extend unemployment benefits that “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 Thursday afternoon and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said he is trying to work out a deal with the House to pass it 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.”
Moorhead Mayor Del Rae Williams, a Dayton guest at the speech, said that she does not know if money Dayton proposes could be used for her city’s planned $10 million sewage treatment plan work.
Legislators who represent Williams’ city were happy with what Dayton said.
“He was direct,” Rep. Ben Lien, D-Moorhead, said, adding that education issues and directing surplus money to help grow the economy were high points.
While Dayton did not mention the need for a new Moorhead railroad crossing, Williams said he was thinking about it because he invited her. “It is a key issue for him.”
“I liked the fact that he emphasized the positive about Minnesota,” Sen. Kent Eken, D-Twin Valley, said. “We need to promote ourselves.”
But a Republican senator said that Dayton picks the information he likes, but dismisses studies Republicans bring up.
“You can’t keep talking about working together, then keep throwing these things out there all the time,” Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, said about Dayton’s attacks on Republicans. “You sort of shrug it off; it goes with the territory.”
Rep. John Persell, D-Bemidji, said he “went really hard after common sense.”
Dayton delivered his address at the University of Minnesota McNamara Alumni Center.
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, Morris City Administrator Blaine Hill, Worthington Mayor Mike Kuhle and Mankato Mayor Eric Anderson.

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