Gov. Mark Dayton wants to cooperate with Minnesota's business leaders and Republicans who control the Legislature.
At the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce's annual dinner Tuesday evening, Dayton told business leaders he wants to work with them on ways to improve the state's economy. But signs of the partisan gridlock that plagued the Capitol last year also surfaced.
Last year, Gov. Dayton gave a sabre-rattling speech urging the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce to support his income tax hike on top earners. This year, Dayton delivered an olive branch — laced with several jokes — and focused on what the two sides can agree on.
"Your annual dinner is the perfect capstone to the first day of the new legislative session which feels to me like the beginning of a new baseball season when everyone is still undefeated," Dayton said. "No one has struck out yet. And everyone is still batting a thousand."
The speech comes just six months after Dayton and lawmakers repeatedly struck out on a budget agreement. A 20-day state government shutdown preceded a compromise that resulted in borrowing against future tobacco payments and delaying money to schools.
This year, Dayton did not mention his plan to increase taxes on top earners — and may not need to at all this year — because of the state's budget surplus. But Dayton is pushing to borrow $775 million for public works projects, a tax credit for businesses that hire workers and a new football stadium for the Minnesota Vikings. Dayton said those plans would help create jobs, and he's willing to work with Republicans.
"If they have some ideas that relate to job creation, then I'm all ears. I didn't look at the full gamut of the legislative possibilities but I'm not aware of anything else that is critically needed."
Republicans have different ideas about job creation. Republican House Majority Leader Matt Dean said his caucus is focused on efforts to redesign government, including cutting the statewide property tax and taking steps to help failing schools.
"We've coalesced around an agenda so actually I think we're probably tighter together now than we have been since I got here and fully behind an agenda," Dean said.
Republicans may be united, but there were few signs of unity between Senate parties on the first day of the legislative session. Newly-elected Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, began the session by welcoming the Senate's three new members.
"Welcome to the Senate family," Senjem said on the Senate floor. "This is family. This is the mother church of state government, as far as I'm concerned, and it is and will always be."
The pleasantry lasted under two hours. After the floor session, Senjem chaired a Senate Rules Committee session that voted to cut $2.6 million from the Senate budget. The cuts, enacted last summer, came at the expense of Democrats. On a party line vote, the committee cut $444,400 by eliminating as many as 14 DFL staff jobs over the next 18 months. There were no cuts to GOP staff. The fight over internal finances angered some Democrats, including Keith Langseth of Glyndon.
"You can sugarcoat this all you want," said Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon. "It's an unfair action being taken by the majority against the minority just because you have the votes to do it."
Republicans say they believe DFLers can manage the budget in a way that would not result in staff cuts.
Lawmakers aren't expecting to linger at the Capitol for long this year. Every member of the Legislature is on the November ballot. The state's political boundaries will be redrawn this year, which will create urgency for lawmakers to wrap up the session so they can get to know their new constituents.