While the governor touted progress Wednesday in his State of the State address, the GOP attacked.
More jobs that pay enough to raise a family. A longer school year and day. Affordable early childhood education for all by 2018. A tax credit to help families pay for care for children, the elderly and disabled.
A more efficient state government, including a glitch-free MNsure health insurance purchasing exchange. And public investments in human capital and built assets sufficient to keep up with intensifying global competition.
That’s part of a vision for the rest of this decade that Gov. Mark Dayton described Wednesday in a State of the State message that might have been billed as the de facto kickoff of the DFL governor’s bid for a second term. His political opponents were calling it a “state of the campaign speech” hours before it was delivered.
That label was inevitable, given the delayed timing of this year’s constitutionally required message to the Legislature. Hip surgery in February and Dayton’s desire to deliver the address in person, not in writing, pushed the annual event late into the lawmaking season. The Legislature’s constitutionally fixed adjournment date is May 19, less than three weeks away, and the two chambers are well on their way toward completing their work for the year. Five Republicans are actively seeking Dayton’s job.
Under those circumstances, Dayton directed his remarks not only to lawmakers seated in the House chamber, but also to Minnesotans generally. Like most first-termers seeking re-election, he touted the accomplishments of his first term. Like most, he included on his list progress that might have happened without his policies, or that happened despite them.
But Dayton is justified in claiming as crucial the state’s contribution to the Downtown East development in Minneapolis that’s anchored by a new Vikings stadium and to the surge in St. Paul’s Lowertown that’s spurred by a new St. Paul Saints ballpark.
Those projects illustrated a campaign argument Dayton rehearsed Wednesday: The growth Minnesota wants is best created when state and local governments provide a cooperative push with investments in education and infrastructure. He’s willing to provide that push, he said, leaving implicit the argument that his GOP rivals may not be.
The speech gave Dayton’s GOP critics fresh opportunity to fault him for the 2013 high-earner-income and cigarette tax increases that they deem unnecessary and a drag on the state’s economy. The state’s economy is not performing at its potential as a result, GOP legislative leaders said.
But that case is made more difficult by evidence that the state economy is among the nation’s fastest-growing, and in 2013 Minnesota had the 11th-highest per capita income among the 50 states. Further, the lion’s share of additional state spending on Dayton’s watch will go to public education, a higher-education tuition freeze and property tax relief for low- and middle-income Minnesotans — all popular among Minnesota voters.
Another GOP argument may find more resonance. While Dayton emphasizes government efficiency, his message last night was skimpy on calls for reform or government redesign. His calls for additional government investment are too seldom accompanied by fresh ideas for smarter, more targeted spending. Without such creativity, Dayton risks being cast as a governor from the 20th century, not the 21st.
It may have been fitting that Dayton, a former Yale hockey goalie, was serving many Minnesotans a televised teaser to the evening’s main viewing event — a decisive first-round playoff game for the Minnesota Wild. We suspect that some viewers tuned in less for the speech’s content than for a look at the 67-year-old chief executive, who has coped in recent years with back trouble and a serious hip injury.
Dayton avoided the traditional State of the State walk down the House chamber’s aisle last night. But his entrance from the retiring room was made without the crutches he has used since his return to the Capitol in March. Like the Minnesota economy, he’s recovering. Voters will decide whether those recoveries warrant a second term.
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