The governor's State of the State speech praised accomplishments and called for more innovation.
In his fourth and final State of the State speech before he stands for reelection, Gov. Tim Pawlenty described Minnesota in 2006 as "strong, hopeful and prosperous" and still near the top in quality-of-life rankings.
The address in the packed House chamber on Thursday blended several key themes that Pawlenty has developed in recent months.
He itemized 16 major accomplishments -- including solving the state's budget deficits -- and ticked off six top state rankings in health, education and the economy.
"Our people are working. Our students are learning. And our citizens are healthy," he said.
He also outlined 29 proposals in education, health care, the environment and jobs creation that he would like passed.
Using the soaring rhetoric that governors perennially bring to the speech, the Republican governor coined the phrase "lighthouse state" for Minnesota, using the imagery of Split Rock Lighthouse on Lake Superior. He cited historic ways in which Minnesota had served the nation, saying, "We are a beacon of hope, optimism and the innovative spirit to get things done."
"I want this historic building to be a lighthouse again," he said of the 101-year-old State Capitol.
In response, DFLers and allied groups focused on themes of taxes and program cuts.
Despite claims to having balanced the huge deficits with no state taxes, opponents said, Pawlenty actually raised property taxes and fees and seriously damaged middle- and lower-income groups with his program cuts. And the rest of his initiatives amount to creative but trivial window-dressing.
The Alliance for a Better Minnesota, a coalition of labor unions and liberal groups, contended that Pawlenty had forced local property taxes to rise an average of 32 percent over three years and that he had raised fees by almost $900 million.
The group also accused him of leaving 77,000 more citizens without health insurance, cutting programs for schools and the elderly, and causing steep hikes in tuition.
Pawlenty's only reference to the bitter budget fights and deadlocked sessions over the past three years was this: "While it hasn't always been pretty, we've accomplished a great deal together."
Among his top claims to accomplishments were what he called the "biggest financial turnaround in Minnesota history," regaining Minnesota's status as an "education innovator" and instituting new state education standards.
His top legislative priorities in each of four categories -- almost all 29 of which had been promoted earlier -- include initiatives for early childhood, classroom funding, and math and science standards; directing that providers more aggressively market health insurance plans for less than $200 a month; developing a long-term strategic plan for conservation, including a constitutional amendment to dedicate funds for natural resources, and imposing a cap on property taxes and overhauling the corporate tax "so we don't punish job creation."
Pawlenty also repeated calls for docking the pay of legislators and the governor if they don't meet legislative adjournment deadlines; encouraging legal immigration and "cracking down" on illegal immigration and a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage.
A brief display
The latter two of those again provoked accusations that Pawlenty's agenda was "divisive" and designed to build on resentments in the majority culture against racial minorities, gays and lesbians.
When Pawlenty talked about revitalizing "the traditional family structure," Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, rose and briefly turned her back to the podium. She was joined by her desk mate, Rep. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park.