After a year dominated by a record budget deficit, legislative gridlock and a state government shutdown, Gov. Mark Dayton hopes 2012 will be focused on finding ways to put more Minnesotans back to work.
In an interview marking the end of his first year in office, the DFL governor made it clear he does not expect singing of "Kumbaya" to break out with the Republican-led Legislature, particularly since 2012 is a presidential and legislative election year. But without the pressure of dealing with an immediate deficit, he said, there may be more opportunities for the two sides to work together.
Dayton said he had no comment on the recent resignation of Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, but said he hopes the new Republican leader in the Senate is someone who can work with him and DFL legislators on mutual goals.
"Jobs" was Dayton's one-word answer to his chief goal for 2012. He also referred to other capital projects or a "bonding" bill and a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings. "Let's do the things that state government can do to put people back to work,'' he said. Working on government reform in collaboration with the Legislature is another possibility, he said.
"I'm hopeful that even though it will be a very political session, we can find areas of common ground,'' Dayton said.
Dayton said the 20-day state shutdown in July, the result of the failure of the two sides to reach a budget agreement, was the "low point" of the year. High points include state savings for putting health-care coverage up to bid, winning a federal "Race to the Top" grant and the fact that Minnesota's recovery has been stronger than the nation's, he said.
"The fact that Minnesota's recovery has led the nation's is a tribute to the people of Minnesota, and the employers of Minnesota,'' he said. He said his job summits around the state showed strong support for government measures that indirectly help the economy, such as transportation infrastructure and a strong education system.
Dayton opposes a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage that Republicans in the Legislature placed on the November 2012 ballot. He said he fears that the campaign leading up to the vote will be "very destructive and divisive and ugly.'' He said he also worries that the Legislature will put other measures he opposes on the ballot, such as a requirement that all voters show an approved photo ID before being allowed to cast a ballot. Dayton vetoed such a bill last year, but governors cannot block constitutional amendments from going on the ballot for a vote if the Legislature approves.
He said he believes the expansion of charitable gambling could raise enough money to pay the entire governmental share of a new Vikings stadium, rather than relying on Minneapolis or Ramsey County to contribute. "It simplifies matters, takes one party out of it, makes it administratively more workable,'' he said. But he added: "It would probably be much tougher to pass the Legislature that way.''
Dayton has been sued by the Minnesota Senate for allegedly overstepping his authority in ordering a child care union vote. He said he believes the Legislature overstepped its authority in causing the firing of the executive director of the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources without consulting the commissioners. And he criticized the state Senate for not having approved a reduced budget nearly six months after it was ordered to undergo a 5 percent cut.
"If you're going to preach government reform, you've got to practice it yourself,'' Dayton said.
Dayton said he has learned to prepare for anything in response to fast-changing world events. "We're in a turbulent time in this country and this world for the foreseeable future,'' he said. "Expect the unexpected.''
Jim Ragsdale • 651-925-5042