State of the State 10 Apr 15

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Governor Mark Dayton is imploring lawmakers to bypass political considerations and take risks as they decide important issues in the session’s final weeks.

Dayton made the theme part of his State of the State address Thursday night. It comes in a year in which Dayton is challenging popular opinion on many fronts.

None is greater than his call for a higher gas tax for transportation projects at a time when Minnesota’s budget is running a surplus. Dayton argues transportation needs a consistent revenue stream for years to come.

But a unified Republican front and some Democrats are reluctant to pass a gas tax. Dayton is also crossways with some farm groups in his call for buffer strips to discourage agricultural runoffs near lakes, rivers and streams.

Dayton has jokingly described his top priorities for the legislative session as “everything.”

But in a State of the State speech, Dayton made clear that steering more money to education and transportation are atop his agenda. Lawmakers have less than six weeks to finish their session, so Dayton used his address to emphasize key issues.

Specifically, Dayton is trying to create a preschool initiative that would give all four-year-olds access to high-quality programs at no cost to their parents. On higher education, the governor is pushing to continue undergraduate tuition freezes for two more years.

Transportation carries more political division. Dayton wants to raise taxes to support road, bridge and transit work; Republicans want to tap into existing revenue streams and the state surplus.

Governor Dayton has given a glowing rundown on Minnesota’s economy while voicing concerns about troubles in the steel and turkey industries.

Dayton made mention of the 1,100 layoffs coming to the northeastern Minnesota Iron Range when some taconite plants are idled. And he says the avian flu outbreak hitting some farms in the nation’s leading producer of turkeys.

Dayton hinted that some state help could be coming their way, but didn’t elaborate.

Minnesota has a projected $1.9 billion surplus to allocate as lawmakers set the next state budget.

Minnesota’s unemployment rate is far beneath the national average, at 3.7 percent at last check.