The ugly partisanship displayed by Senate Republicans during the first days of this year's legislative session was extremely disappointing. It belied their professed desire to work cooperatively together for the people of Minnesota.
Those legislative antics were followed by a commentary from the Minnesota Business Partnership's executive director ("Advice for Legislature: Keep it simple this year," Jan. 30). It repeated shopworn claims that Minnesota is bad for business. By contrast, it was so refreshing, and very helpful, when chief executives from leading companies in the partnership spoke positively about Minnesota in a recent "Greater MSP" video.
The commentary's unsubstantiated claim of job losses doesn't square with the facts. Minnesota's latest unemployment rate in December 2011 was 5.8 percent, which was a record 2.7 percentage points below the national average.
Our state has regained more than one-third of the jobs lost during the "Great Recession." By contrast, the rest of the country has recovered less than one-fourth. And Minnesota's percentage increase in total wages during 2011 was four times greater than the rest of the country.
After the disastrous first two weeks of the 2012 legislative session and another recital of business complaints, this session already feels the same as the last one. If those tactics and attitudes continue, there is little to look forward to.
Meanwhile, people throughout Minnesota keep telling me that they want us to work together to solve our state's most urgent problems.
No. 1 is jobs.
Despite our progress in reducing the unemployment rate last year, there are still 175,000 Minnesotans who can't find jobs. Jobs are what the Legislature should be spending all of its time on.
I have already sent them three major jobs initiatives. My proposed bonding bill would repair buildings and upgrade classroom equipment at our state colleges and universities. It would help finance downtown revitalization projects in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Rochester, Mankato and St. Cloud. It would improve our state parks.
Legislators are certainly entitled to have their own preferred projects. I ask, however, that they develop their priorities quickly and pass a bonding bill this month. The sooner they act, the sooner several thousand unemployed Minnesotans will be doing the work that those repairs and renovations require.
A new "People's Stadium" would employ several thousand more workers over the next three years -- and keep the Minnesota Vikings here. Rumors abound that legislative leaders want to avoid controversial stadium votes this year for fear they would jeopardize some members' reelections.
If those rumors prove true, the result will be that thousands of Minnesotans needing jobs won't get them so that some legislators can try to keep theirs. That would be a real shame.
My third jobs proposal is to offer a "Jobs Now" tax credit to businesses that hire unemployed Minnesotans, veterans and recent college graduates. It would reduce taxes for participating businesses, while putting more of our citizens to work. Like the others, it awaits action by legislators.
I welcome their ideas, too. I'd like us to combine our best ideas and put them to work putting Minnesotans to work. That bipartisan "Jobs Now" legislation should be the Legislature's top priority. Other bills can wait until we have done our job to help put Minnesotans back on their jobs.
I also look forward to continuing our bipartisan work to reform state government, streamline permitting processes even further and reduce the costs of public services.
Those collaborative efforts began early last year and, hopefully, will continue. We have already made real progress. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Natural Resources now complete 99 percent of their priority permit reviews within 150 days. We can make it still faster, and we will.
Our "Business First-Stop" is another step in the right direction. It is a one-stop center where new and expanding businesses can make one call and get whatever help they need.
Through partnerships with companies like General Mills, state employees are implementing "LEAN" principles of continuous improvement, which are saving money and improving customer service for taxpayers. The Department of Administration saved $3 million in just six months by revamping contracts with suppliers. The Department of Revenue saved $1 million by implementing electronic check processing.
Finally, I again invite Republican legislative leaders to join their DFL counterparts and almost every mainstream organization involved with our state's health care, including the Minnesota Business Partnership; the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, and most major health care plans, providers, and insurers, in designing together a Minnesota "health exchange." Working together does not require that they like the new federal law, only that they want to assure Minnesota businesses and individuals the best health care at the most affordable prices.
There is still time to get this legislative session back on track -- back to serving the needs of the people of Minnesota, who elected us to work together and who are still waiting for us to begin.
Mark Dayton is governor of Minnesota.