Governor pushes school policies in 5th State of State speech

A gubernatorial greeting
Gov. Tim Pawlenty greets lawmakers as he's introduced in the House of Representatives, shortly before delivering his State of the State address.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

The gold horse-drawn chariot on the roof of the Minnesota Capitol is called "The Progress of the State." Gov. Pawlenty used this familiar statue in his State of the State speech as a metaphor for the 2007 session. He says the four big horses he wants to steer in the coming months include better government, better energy, better education and better health care.

"Democrats and Republicans need to work together to guide our state in a common direction," he said. "We have plenty of power here, that's not the problem. The key is pulling at the same speed, in the same direction, all in the name of progress and prosperity for the citizens we serve."

State of the State speech
Gov. Tim Pawlenty delivers the State of the State speech during a joint session of the Legislature. At right is a sign language interpreter.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

Pawlenty spent little time trying to embellish his energy or health care plans. Most of the half hour speech was dedicated to education. He proposed a 2-percent increase in funding for K-12 schools each of the next two years. Schools that achieve three or more stars on their state report cards could get even more funding.

Pawlenty also wants to overhaul high school curriculum, create more online learning options and provide a tuition break for most students who attend a state college or university.

Instead of the all-day kindergarten plan favored by the DFL, Pawlenty is proposing an early childhood education scholarship that would target the state's neediest children.

"The truth is that children from advantaged backgrounds don't generally have an academic performance problem. In an era of limited resources and seemingly limitless needs, we need to focus and prioritize our efforts and our money," he said.

Pawlenty paid tribute to Minnesota men and women serving in the military and their families. He also repeated his opposition to tax increases and unchecked state spending.

Rep. Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, the House minority leader, says the governor made it clear that Minnesotans are not under taxed.

"We all understand that on this side of the aisle," he said. "He understands that. We just hope the people on the other side understand that as we put our budget together, there is only so much we can live with here."

While the governor's broad themes are similar to ones pushed by the DFL majority, there are plenty of differences.

Rep. Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, the House majority leader, says he's mostly speaking the same language as the governor on education, health care and property taxes. But Sertich was disappointed the governor didn't talk about transportation funding while trying to revive two failed issues from the past: a cap on local property taxes and a requirement that schools spend 70 percent of their funding in classrooms.

"I hate to draw the line in the sand too bold, but there were proposals that he threw out again as sequels from last session that were dead on arrival even when the Republicans were in charge So, hopefully he won't spend too much time on those and work on the things that we can get done cooperatively," Sertich said.

DFL leaders in the Minnesota Senate offered a harsher review of the governor's speech.

"I think one of the themes that was a little disconcerting was it didn't seem like we were talking about one Minnesota anymore," said Sen. Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud. She says the DFL caucus is focused on affordable and accessible health care for all children, quality education for all students and viability for all communities.

But Clark didn't hear the same, inclusive description in the governor's speech.

"This was about schools that are performing, kids who are performing, communities that already have low levies on property taxes. I mean this was kind of two tiers of Minnesota," she said.

Lawmakers will get more from Gov. Pawlenty to chew on next week. He's scheduled to release spending specifics Monday as part of his two-year budget proposal.

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