Gov. Mark Dayton's State of the State address Thursday had the traditional pomp and folderol and the obligatory assurance that "the state of our state is good."
But it lacked something it would have had, had it been delivered three months ago -- freshness. By waiting until only five weeks remain of the 2015 legislative session to give his customary message, Dayton turned his message into a summation of sales pitches he made earlier this year, and about which legislators' minds are made up.
Ideas that might have carried bipartisan potential in January sounded Thursday like a closing argument for this year's DFL agenda. The speech's sharply divided response in the House chamber -- DFLers on their feet cheering, Republicans sitting on their hands -- told the story.
No unexpected policy ideas were presented. It's too late in the session for new agenda items. But Dayton gave a strong push to a proposal he issued only two days ago -- an $842 million bonding bill, to be enacted this year. And he raised the stature of one issue -- water quality -- by mentioning it nearly as prominently as the education and transportation improvements he seeks this year.
I appreciated his call for "reframing the debate" that has run too long in state politics. Years of deficits and assorted troubles have allowed state politicians to habitually ask, "What must we do to save our state from disaster?" As Dayton said, that question is obsolete. Minnesota doesn't need an emergency rescue this year. Rather, it needs thoughtful answers to the question, "What can we do to create an even better future?"
As Dayton also noted, legislators should not postpone their answer until next year or the next election. Times are good now. But an aging population and shrinking numbers of working-age adults mean that "we are unlikely to see surpluses of this magnitude in future years," Dayton said. The one state government has this year should be handled with care.