Dayton talks transportation, education

The governor gave his sixth State of the State address at the U Wednesday.

by Kevin Beckman

Gov. Mark Dayton highlighted early childhood education, transportation, racial disparities and other challenges facing Minnesota during his sixth State of the State address Wednesday night, hosted at the University of Minnesota’s McNamara Alumni Center.
In his remarks to legislators, Dayton emphasized the need for a comprehensive transportation funding package to address the state’s aging roads, bridges and transit, adding that disagreement between Republican and DFL lawmakers last year left Minnesotans without a solution.
Dayton’s current transportation plan would invest $6 billion over the next decade to address the state’s highway funding shortfall, along with $2.36 billion for local government transportation projects and $2.92 billion for state transit systems.
“The facts are clear. We must make additional investments to repair and improve Minnesota’s transportation systems … or they will get worse,” Dayton said.
Dayton’s 2016 bonding bill also calls for investing $167 million in clean water infrastructure projects across the state, in addition to investing in water pollution control.  
Another priority for the governor this year is investing in early childhood education, for which support has increased in recent years and will need to continue to grow as needs rise, he said. 
The governor also called for action against statewide racial inequalities, citing significant differences in median incomes between white families and families of color. 
Included in the governor’s concerns about racial disparities was a request for legislative action to address the opportunity gap in early education. 
“It’s time to stop holding our schools and educators solely responsible for closing our state’s opportunity and achievement gaps,” he said. “All of us share that responsibility.”
Tax and other revenues are projected to be $427 million less in this biennium and $698 million less in the next biennium than previously forecasted, Dayton said, a shortfall he called a concern.
Dayton asked lawmakers to extend unemployment benefits to laid-off Iron Range workers, but a   tense, two-hour debate on the first day of session Tuesday ended in a stalemate.
If lawmakers don’t reach an agreement, Dayton said, “It will be a broken promise that people will long remember.”
Following Dayton’s remarks, House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said while he and the governor disagree on the paths to achieve the state’s goals, they share many of the same priorities. 
“I think we do have some things that we can work on together, and I’m optimistic about that,” Daudt said.  
Legislators have less than 11 weeks to debate bills and pass laws this session.
“Minnesota has always been at its best when we work together,” Dayton said. “We are better when we recognize and anticipate the challenges ahead and come together as one Minnesota to create opportunities for every child, every family, every person to succeed.”