Dayton prioritizes education in address

Logan Wroge

In his fifth State of the State address, Gov. Mark Dayton stressed that continued support for education is imperative for maintaining and improving the state’s economic success.
The governor gave his address to a crowded room at the state Capitol on Thursday evening, reiterating education and transportation as his top priorities. 
Higher education and college affordability comprised a large part of the speech, and he restated his plans to support a tuition freeze and offer additional state funding for capital improvements at the University of Minnesota.
Last week, Dayton introduced his bonding bill, which would appropriate $100 million to the University for facility maintenance, renovations and the construction of new buildings. 
The governor’s proposal, which he calls his Jobs Bill, goes beyond the University’s initial request of $77 million for infrastructure improvements.
“The quality of our state is, and will be, determined primarily by the quality of our citizens, which will be influenced strongly by the quality of their education,” Dayton said Thursday.
During the speech, Dayton also credited Minnesota’s nearly $2 billion surplus this year to businesses, professionals and citizens of Minnesota, and not solely to increased taxes.
“Right now, we have a rare moment of opportunity,” Dayton said in the speech. “The state of our state is good. Not everywhere [and] not for everyone, but overall, Minnesota is doing better than it has for some time.”
David Schultz, a political science professor at Hamline University, said Dayton selected the topics of the address as a way to publicize his platform, especially as the legislative session winds down.
“We got five weeks to go before the legislative session’s going to end,” Schultz said. “Right now, it doesn’t look like [Dayton’s] agenda is moving very well, so I think this is an effort to try to jump-start his agenda and to try to get some momentum for it.”
Funding higher education
Dayton’s overall bonding plan calls for $842 million to fund infrastructure projects across the state.
But because this year isn’t a traditional bonding year, leadership in the House and the Senate is divided on whether to pass a bill.
Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, the majority leader, said the Senate is working on a bonding proposal. But because the bill must originate in the House, it depends on what the Republican-controlled House proposes.
House Speaker Rep. Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, told reporters on Thursday he’s willing to negotiate a bonding bill this session, but Dayton needs to prove one is necessary.
In addition to debating whether to pass a bonding bill, legislators will also have to agree on how much funding to appropriate for higher education in the coming weeks.
Both the House and the Senate will craft higher education omnibus bills, which sets budgets for colleges and universities over the next biennium. A tuition freeze for resident undergraduate, graduate and professional students is among the University’s top priorities this session.
Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, chair of the House’s Higher Education Policy and Finance committee, said the House will introduce its omnibus higher education legislation this week and make every effort to fund the freeze.
The Senate will also introduce a higher education omnibus bill this week, said Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, chair of the Senate’s Higher Education and Workforce Development committee. 
Although she said she doesn’t care for the term “tuition freeze,” Bonoff said the Senate’s bill will likely include funding for the initiative.