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In State of the State, Dayton turns focus to outstate Minnesota

Gov. Mark Dayton tells state legislators that the state still needs to invest in jobs and education. His comments came Wednesday during his annual State of the State speech. Behind him are Senate President Sandra Pappas and House Speaker Paul Thissen. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

ST. PAUL — Gov. Mark Dayton focused much of his State of the State speech Wednesday night on outstate Minnesota, from HitchDoc in southern Minnesota’s Jackson to the Kelliher schools in the north.

He used areas outside of the Twin Cities to tout the state’s economic growth but also to illustrate what he sees as the need for more state spending.

“This economic growth is happening all over our state,” the Democrat said.

Republicans called the 48-minute speech the opening of Dayton’s re-election campaign.

Republican-leaning rural Minnesota is expected to be an election battleground for Dayton and state House Democrats.

Dayton spoke highly of spending programs he championed since he became governor in 2011, proposals that mostly passed last year when fellow Democrats gained House and Senate control.

Coming less than three weeks before the legislative session must end, Dayton made few pleas for this year, although he asked legislators to increase their agreed-to public works spending.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, praised Dayton’s request for more public works spending, but Republican leaders say they will not budge from the $850 million they agreed to spend. The four legislative leaders agreed on $1 billion over two years, but Dayton said Wednesday that he wants $1.2 billion.

Dayton said a larger-than-planned public works finance bill can do things such as building the Lewis and Clark water system in southwestern Minnesota. Such projects, he said, would mean “jobs now and jobs in the future.”

The region, served by Republican legislators, needs $71 million to complete the pipeline to Luverne and Worthington. If that money does not come, “that region’s growth in population, business and jobs will suffer,” Dayton said.

The governor said the $850 million cap on public works funding probably would not finish Lewis and Clark.

Rep. Joe Schomacker, R-Luverne, was happy that Dayton promoted the water project. However, Schomacker said, a lesser amount would at least get the pipeline into Luverne, whose mayor sat in the gallery to hear the speech.

Dayton said the Statewide Health Improvement Program has helped Frazee and Fergus Falls in west-central Minnesota adopt policies “making it easier for residents to incorporate physical activity into their daily routines.”

In northern Minnesota’s Kelliher, he added, the program “has brought healthier food to the public schools with more fresh fruits and vegetables and more local foods.” Added state money has allowed Kelliher schools to break even after being up to $40,000 in debt a year ago, he said.

The state needs to invest in more jobs programs, Dayton said, highlighting southwestern Minnesota’s need for people to fill jobs that go empty.

Dayton said Minnesota is better prepared than most states to take part in the global economy: “from our farmers, who have made Minnesota the fourth-largest agriculture exporting state in the nation, to our Iron Range mining companies, who have merged new technology with tried and true methods.”

The governor said state government has helped business. “Some people believe there is no role for government in private sector expansion and job creation. To see that they’re mistaken, just look around Minnesota.”

Dayton opened his comments by thanking Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie. Neither is seeking re-election.

The governor praised Prettner Solon for her work over the years, especially her time as state senator from Duluth. After saying that she and Dayton seldom talked and she did not play a major role in his administration, she announced early this year that she will not run for a second term.

Not surprisingly, Republicans were critical of the Democratic governor.

“Gov. Dayton is good at taking credit but not at taking responsibility,” said House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown. “He’s responsible for one of the largest tax increases in state history and the largest spending increase in state history.”

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.