Gov. Mark Dayton stressed the need to adjust Minnesota's tax system in light of federal changes, called for more state spending on higher education infrastructure, and made a pitch for greater diversity in the state workforce in a speech Tuesday night to the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.
The DFL governor spoke to a packed ballroom of roughly 1,700 business leaders and public officials at the Minneapolis Convention Center. The Chamber's annual "Session Priorities" reception and dinner, typically held during the first week of the legislative session, is a chance for the state's business leaders to mix with state legislators and other politicos.
Touting state surpluses during his time in office, Dayton — who is not running for re-election this year and will leave office at the beginning of 2019 — pledged to make sure the state's economy is in good shape before his departure.
"My highest priority in this legislative session is to protect our state government's fiscal integrity," Dayton said. "We worked hard over the past seven years to achieve budget stability and re-establish fiscal integrity."
Much of Dayton's opening remarks were spent on questions surrounding Minnesota's tax structure given recent major changes to the federal tax code ushered through by Republicans in Congress and President Donald Trump. Dayton said complete conformity to the recent federal tax overhaul would be easy but harmful, citing an estimate that about 150,000 Minnesotans who earn between $50,000 and $75,000 would see their state income tax bill increase by an average of $365.
The governor addressed the need to fund higher education infrastructure projects at the University of Minnesota and at Minnesota State colleges and universities, saying that past higher education bonding appropriations have "lagged seriously behind the needs."
"Our state colleges and universities will not be able to attract or retain the best faculty and students without modern and high-quality buildings, laboratories and equipment," he said.
The Chamber of Commerce is Minnesota's largest organization representing businesses statewide, with more than 2,300 business of all types as members. Some priorities for the Chamber in 2018 include tax conformity and competitiveness, minimizing workplace mandates and improving state transportation infrastructure.
Ryan Faircloth is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.