En route to an appointment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Gov. Mark Dayton took time last Friday, March 7, to visit with the ECM Publishers Editorial Board and discuss the current legislative session and his legislative priorities.
Dayton, recovering from a February hip surgery, said his appointment was to refit him with another cast.
“Every step has been painful during the past nine months,” he said.
Asked if his health would affect his performance as governor and his ambition to seek re-election, Dayton said his recovery continues.
“My brain cells reside in my hip somewhat right now,” he said.
Despite any health issues, Dayton was in the headlines last week with reform proposals, including more than 1,000 ways to make state government work better for the people of Minnesota. From reforms to improve state government services, to the elimination of unnecessary and outdated statutes, to simplifying the language of our state laws, the governor’s proposals were aimed at creating a “better government for a better Minnesota,” he said.
Dayton also announced his desire to cut taxes by $616 million, up from the $500 million initially proposed by House DFLers.
Legislators are debating many hot issues during this session and one topic that is getting top attention is raising the minimum wage. Dayton said he still supports a rate of $9.50 an hour.
Citing an impasse, Dayton predicted a bill increasing the minimum wage might not be passed until the end of the session. Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, has predicted an increase in the minimum wage will be accomplished by this Legislature but not to the amount supported by Dayton. Dayton said a higher minimum wage is needed to put a family of four above the poverty level.
Dayton was asked why the state doesn’t use part of the surplus to pay down the state’s $8 billion debt, Dayton said the state is following the business model of using surplus cash for other investments.
The governor defended his plan to use some of the budget surplus to bolster reserves. He said the budget reserve has not been increased since 2001.
“We hope to have a cushion,” he said.
A recent study showed highway traffic has increased by 17 percent last year. Dayton, regarding transportation priorities, noted that this winter many Minnesotans are realizing that the transportation system has gotten worse and is deteriorating. He said new investments in transportation must be made, “but nobody wants to pay for it.”
He doubted the Legislature will approve any major transportation funding this session but said if he is re-elected, he will seek more transportation funding.
Regarding the Southwest Light Rail project, Dayton said the matter has evolved into a crisis and it could lead to degeneration of neighborhoods. The location of freight rail and tunnel rail is the question, he said. Dayton said it should be asked if the system is wanted.
Dayton said, of all his tax cut proposals, the one “most dear” to him is the proposal affecting middle income people, which includes child care tax credit. Dayton said he has a staff of young kids and one staffer pays as much as $15,000 a year for child care.
On the possibility of using executive authority for a moratorium on silica sand mining, Dayton said he was hesitant because he was found by the courts to have overreached on executive authority in regards to child care unionization.
“I proposed a moratorium (on silica sand mining) before and still support it,” Dayton said.
He said the economic gains have to be balanced against other impacts the mining may have. He said Minnesota’s position is in contrast to Wisconsin, where non-mitigation and devastation have occurred.
A push is currently taking place this legislative session to draft new anti-bullying laws. Dayton said a strong statement must be made that bullying is not acceptable in our society, not just schools. He said schools should be able to set policies on school behavior.
“Laws will not be able to change everything,” he said.
Dayton was asked for his perspective on the top accomplishment and the biggest disappointment he’s seen during his three years as governor.
Education was his answer for top accomplishment. He cited support for staff evaluation and action on early-childhood and every-day kindergarten programs and on college tuition freezes.
The biggest disappointment, he said, has been MNsure. He said the first month of operation for the state health care marketplace was a nightmare.
“It’s getting better,” he said.
Howard Lestrud can be reached at email@example.com.