State of State: Governor calls for teamwork, draws line

Dayton focused on stadium and bonding bills, but GOP heard shots.

Gov. Mark Dayton used Wednesday's State of the State address to call for bipartisan cooperation on a range of issues but also put Republicans on notice that he will oppose bills he finds are "intended for campaign literature rather than law."

The DFL governor, who just last week called Republican leaders "too extreme to lead," asked them to pass his bonding bill, vote on a Minnesota Vikings football stadium and vacate the State Capitol for several years to accomplish a major overhaul of the aging structure.

The speech was in sharp contrast with his address last year, when Dayton praised the "constructive relationships" he and Republicans had, calling it "unthinkable" that the state would face a shutdown over partisan differences. Since his first State of the State speech, he has survived a historic government shutdown and has seen his poll numbers soar while voter ratings of the Legislature have tanked.

In a rare evening address to the House, Senate, constitutional officers and state Supreme Court, Dayton renewed last year's call for collaboration, but he criticized those he said appeared to prefer partisanship to inclusion.

In November, he said, "Minnesotans will decide which of our approaches they prefer. Until then, let us resolve that we will conduct this session's financial affairs responsibly." The entire Legislature will be on the ballot in 2012, but not Dayton.

The speech's tone was gentle, and, according to an administration source, even late in the day Dayton was dialing back language that could be seen as bitingly partisan. But some of the words were still pointed.

"I found it to be a cry for bipartisanship, while at the same time taking shots at Republicans," said Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville. "I don't know that that's helpful."

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, approved of the recognition of common goals -- improvements in jobs, education and government services. "Glad to hear that he wanted to work together on these issues," Zellers said. But the speaker also said Dayton's focus should have been on what is best for Minnesotans, not on getting himself a DFL majority in the Legislature.

The speech won high marks from DFLers, union activists and some local officials.

"Dayton's priorities of jobs, education and government reform are exactly what Minnesota needs to increase our economic recovery and growth," Duluth Mayor Don Ness said.

Some in Dayton's party have felt the governor has been too conciliatory toward Republicans. Retiring Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, said before the speech that last year the governor fell "all over his feet to try to please" Republicans.

"He's clearly got an education after having been there for a year," Greiling said.

On Wednesday, Dayton praised Greiling and retiring GOP Sen. Gen Olson for their education work and spoke approvingly of the Legislature's work to improve schools. "We accomplished a great deal last year, by working together," he said.

But, he warned: "The best education for all Minnesota students should not be a political ploy, and I will not support anything which is."

Republican legislators this session have proposed overhauling teacher tenure rules, giving parents more power to take over underperforming schools and linking teacher pay to student performance.

Dayton also accused Republicans of looking at the wrong measures of economic success in their plans, which include a proposed "right to work" constitutional amendment to curb unions.

Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said the measure is just what Minnesota needs. "It's time to remove the oppressive burden of government regulations," Drazkowski said.

Dayton opposes that and noted that the Tax Foundation places Minnesota in the bottom five for business tax climate, noting that four of the five top-ranked states had "right-to-work" laws .

Minnesota, however, had lower unemployment rates than four of those five top-ranked states and the second-highest per-capita income in the nation, Dayton said. "We're doing something right," he said.

Dayton called for a different plan to create jobs: a bonding bill and a new Vikings stadium.

He scolded legislators for the lack of movement on those proposals. "I'm amazed that some people feel no urgency to put several thousand more Minnesotans back to work," he said.

"Pass the bonding bill, now. Please," he said. "Pass the stadium bill this session. Please."

Stadium negotiators, he said, "may be getting close to a site, a deal and a bill. Then it will be up to you in the Legislature."

That line got very muted reaction -- several DFLers smiled or shrugged.

"We will see about the Vikings stadium," Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said afterwards.

Dayton asked lawmakers to "make the most unselfish vote of your careers" by willingly evacuating the century-old Capitol so that it can be made "functional and safe for the next 100 years."

A state panel warned last month the Capitol needs $241 million worth of repairs and preservation work.

Unlike last year, when the state was plagued by recession and falling revenues, Dayton spoke Wednesday of progress made and brighter times ahead.

"I am hopeful, because I believe in Minnesota. ... And, fortunately, our state is now showing signs of a long-awaited and much-needed economic recovery," he said.

"So, I say to legislators, let's take your best ideas and my best ideas and turn them into jobs," he said. "And let's do it now."

Staff writers Baird Helgeson and Jennifer Brooks contributed to this report. Rachel E. Stassen-Berger • Twitter: @rachelsb

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