In a speech that was part conciliatory and part confrontational, Gov. Mark Dayton outlined his priorities for the upcoming legislative session, and politely asked legislative leaders to pass his job creation plans.
In the governor's second State of the State speech , he told lawmakers that the voters would judge in November who has the right approach on the state's finances.
Dayton's speech avoided sounding like a laundry list of his 2012 priorities. Nor did it provide any new ideas, policies or initiatives. Instead, the governor focused most of his address on how to improve the state's job climate. He repeated his call for a public works bill, a new Vikings stadium deal and a tax credit aimed at businesses that hire new workers. He also repeatedly used the word "please" throughout the speech, asking the Legislature to focus on the 168,000 Minnesotans without jobs.
"They must be our number one priority," Dayton said. "I say to legislators, let's take your best ideas and my best ideas and then turn them into jobs. And let's do it now."
Minnesota's economic picture is much better than the rest of the nation, Dayton said, but warned that leaders need to focus on the future and be good stewards of the state.
"I often wonder how our children and grandchildren will judge our stewardship," Dayton said. "Will they thank us for leaving our state, nation and world in better condition than when we inherited it? Or will they ask, "How could you have left us with such a mess?"
As Dayton urged lawmakers to put their differences aside to work for the good of Minnesota, he also scolded them for focusing more on the November elections than on the priorities of the state. He criticized efforts that would weaken the power of unions, education reform efforts that don't have the support of teachers and a lack of urgency for building a new football stadium.
During his speech, Dayton did not once mention last year's state government shutdown. And he mentioned only once his plan to raise income taxes on Minnesota's top earners once. But he used that reference to lay a marker for this year's elections.
"In fairness, I acknowledge that many of you in the Legislature wanted to balance the budget by reducing spending. Next November, Minnesotans will decide which of our approaches they prefer," Dayton said. "Until then, let us resolve that we will conduct this session's financial affairs responsibly."
The DFL governor and the Republican-controlled Legislature have been at odds this session. He called Senate Republicans "unfit to govern" after they rejected his choice to chair the Public Utilities Commission. Last week he vetoed four bills that Republicans said would create jobs by changing the rules for filing lawsuits, an idea that Dayton called laughable. Even so, Republican legislative leaders praised Dayton for striking a cooperative tone in his speech. GOP Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem said he believes Dayton hit the reset button on the session.
"We weren't called incompetent to govern or anything like that, so that kind of rhetoric was absent and thank goodness it was," Senjem said. "I think he extended a spirit of cooperation to us, and we'll certainly reach back to him and certainly work with him towards a successful session."
Senjem believes the Legislature will pass a bonding bill this session but it won't be as large as $775 million bill proposed by Dayton. Senjem and Republican Speaker Kurt Zellers both were also wary of Dayton's other job creation priorities. Both expressed surprise that Dayton mentioned the November election during his speech. Zellers said he's happy to make the Republican case to voters.
"I'm comfortable going to the people of the state saying we balanced the budget, redesigned government, looked at ways that we treat every single dollar that we see down here the same way a family would when they're balancing their budgets," Zellers said. "We lived within our means and we didn't raise taxes on business owners. If that's the choice going into this election — absolutely."
The state's political picture will come into sharper focus next week after a court appointed panel releases a set of redrawn political boundaries. Those are the districts in which lawmakers will have to run for re-election. Every seat in the Legislature will be on the ballot this year. Dayton will be up for re-election in 2014.