Gov. Mark Dayton used his fourth State of the State address Wednesday night to urge lawmakers to pass a $1.2 billion bonding bill before the end of session. With the session set to end in less than three weeks, Dayton spent much of his time recapping the past three and an half years in office, and making the case for a second term.
"When I ran for governor four years ago, I promised a better Minnesota," the DFLer Dayton said. "Tonight, I can report that the state of our state is better, much better than before."
The speech came about three months later than usual, due to Dayton's recovery from hip surgery. Governors typically address lawmakers early in the session and outline their legislative agenda. Most of Dayton's 2014 agenda is already passed or moving toward passage.
One key exception is the still unresolved funding measure for public construction projects. Dayton said a large bonding bill is needed, so that projects like the Lewis and Clark water pipeline in the southwestern corner of the state are not left out.
"Why am I for a $1.2 billion bonding bill? Because I'm for jobs. Our building this pipeline means jobs now and more jobs in the future."
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With an eye toward a second term, Dayton highlighted two priorities for the 2015 session: transportation funding and an overhaul of student-testing requirements in schools. He also called for an expansion of pre-school opportunities.
"Let us commit that by the year 2018, all three-and-four-year-olds in Minnesota will have access to quality, affordable early childhood education," Dayton said.
With an eye toward the campaign, Dayton offered a public defense of the issue Republicans are already using against him: the troubled launch of the state health insurance exchange.
"MNsure didn't start well, but it's gotten better, and it will keep on improving," he said.
Democrats praised the speech. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said Dayton did good job highlighting his future priorities.
"His potential investments in education, in transportation, job creation and economic development are the values that Minnesotans share with him," Bakk said.
Republicans were largely unimpressed with the governor's future priorities and his recap of first-term accomplishments. They contend that Minnesota's current financial strength is due to their budget approach two years ago when they were in the majority. Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said Dayton took too much credit.
"To hear the governor talk about this it sounds like that the source of all prosperity and all good things come from Democrat majorities in the government," Hann said. "Of course we know that's not true. The hardworking people of this state do a lot, and what we really need to do is adopt the policies and taxation and regulation that allow people to thrive, allow businesses to grow. In fact this administration, this governor has been very, very bad on business and creating job opportunities for the state, and I think that's a huge problem."
The Republican candidates who want to challenge Dayton this fall also offered harsh reviews of the speech. Three of them were in attendance. Senator Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville and Rep. Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, are current members of the Legislature. Former Rep. Marty Seifert was there as the guest of his lieutenant governor running mate, Rep. Pam Myhra, R-Burnsville. Seifert said he was disappointed with the speech.
"I think that we want a more optimistic vision of future ideas, not just a rehashing of the past," he said.
Dayton's speech also provided a backdrop for some issue advocacy. Members of the Welfare Rights Committee protested outside the House chamber for an increase in funding for safety net programs. A group called Howling for Wolves was there to call on state officials to suspend wolf hunting.