DFL Gov. Mark Dayton used his third State of the State address Wednesday night to make an expected defense of his budget proposal, but also to make a declaration of his support for legalizing same-sex marriage.
Dayton stopped short of calling on legislators to send him a marriage bill to sign this session, but he told a joint convention of the House and Senate that he wants Minnesotans to marry whomever they choose.
The governor began his speech explaining that part of his intent was to show where the state should go and determine how to get there. In the wake of last fall's defeat of the Republican-proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, Dayton made clear which direction he thinks Minnesota should now move on the issue.
"I believe that every Minnesotan should have the freedom to marry legally the person she or he loves, whether of the same or other sex."
“I believe that every Minnesotan should have the freedom to marry legally the person she or he loves, whether of the same or other sex.”Gov. Mark Dayton
Same-sex marriage supporters are expected to introduce a bill this session to make those unions legal, but Dayton did not mention it. He has said previously that he would sign such a measure into law if it landed on his desk.
The governor also declared his support for clean energy initiatives, after-school programs and a proposal to use even-year legislative sessions for eliminating outdated laws rather than passing new ones.
The bulk of Dayton's speech explained and defended the tax and spending plan he unveiled last month. The governor wants to raise $2 billion in new taxes, with about half going to erase a projected $1.1 billion budget deficit. He wants to spend the rest on public education, economic development and property tax relief. Dayton described his plan as a way to lift the state out of a miserable cycle of deficits that has not been fixed by shortchanging education and local governments.
"Are we better off today after all those reductions in public services? I say no," Dayton said. "Trying to cut our way to a better Minnesota is a failed experiment, and we should not repeat it."
Dayton faced a generally more receptive audience this year with Democrats now in control of both chambers of the Legislature. But those new DFL leaders have not yet embraced many specifics in the governor's budget proposal. Dayton made it clear that he is open to their alternatives.
"Some will characterize any legislative changes in my budget as my loss. I don't see it that way at all," he said. "The winners I care about are the people of Minnesota whose collective best interests I was elected to represent, as were you in the Legislature. Whatever outcome does the most to improve the lives of the most Minnesotans makes winners of us all."
Tax-averse Republicans have been criticizing Dayton's budget since its release, and they did not appear to be swayed by the state of the state address. Republican Rep. Greg Davids of Preston said he was not impressed.
"This speech was certainly unremarkable. It was pathetically partisan," Davids said. "When the biggest initiative the governor has is to adopt an after-school program; and then he talks about the divisive social issues, criticizes our neighboring states and criticizes the party opposite.
"He says he wants to work and get things done for Minensota, but there was certainly no indication of that tonight."
Democrats liked what they heard. DFL House Speaker Paul Thissen said he thought Dayton did a good job highlighting the state's budget challenges and the need for a new approach. He also said he looks forward to working on the solution.
"I think he and we have said from the very beginning that his budget is a starting point for the discussion," Thissen said.
He said legislators are examining the budget's spending and taxing aspects to put together a plan that works best for middle-class Minnesotans and those working to become middle class.
Thissen said he shares Dayton's view on same-sex marriage, but stressed that the budget work will come first this session.
DFL Sen. Scott Dibble of Minneapolis is expected to introduce a marriage equality bill sometime soon. Dibble said he thinks it's time to pass the measure and that he was grateful that the governor highlighted the issue in his speech.