Dayton: Minn. continues to be leader

NEW ULM – Gov. Mark Dayton sounded a call of optimism for Minnesota in a lunch address in New Ulm Tuesday.

Speaking to members of the Kiwanis and Rotary clubs, the Chamber of Commerce and the public, Dayton said he has been hearing for years, since he was Commissioner of the Department of Commerce under Gov. Rudy Perpich, about the terrible state of the state’s business climate.

“If that were true, there wouldn’t be a business left in the state by now,” said Dayton.

Instead, Minnesota has been and continues to be a leader in economic growth in the region and in the nation.

Dayton said the state did see an 18 percent drop in median income during the recent economic recession, but the state has been rebounding. In recent years it has seen the fourth largest growth in median income in the nation, he said.

“I know a lot of business groups say low state taxes drive economic development, but I believe the opposite is true,” Dayton said.

He compared Minnesota, ranked 15th in the nation in taxes in one study, but 10th in personal income, to Tennessee, Alabama and other low-tax states which also rank among the lowest in income.

“During the 35 years I’ve been in state government, Minnesota has been a high tax state,” said Dayton. “But in most years our citizens’ income levels and standards of living have improved.”

Dayton said Minnesota provides the best value for the taxes it takes in, providing things businesses need, like an education system that produces well-educated productive and innovative workers. The state continues to focus on education, with funding this year for all-day, every-day kindergarten and early childhood education, to efforts to match courses at the state’s post-secondary schools and state colleges with the needs of business.

“We have frozen the tuition at the University of Minnesota and the MnSCU schools to make it as affordable as we can,” he said.

Dayton said the state’s health care system leads the nation for low cost and for quality of care. He pointed out that the MNsure program, which allows people and businesses to buy health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act, offers the lowest rates in the nation. Low rates will allow businesses to be more competitive, he said.

As for quality, Dayton said Minnesota’s health care providers are among the best in the country, and the state’s citizens regularly rank first or second in national ratings of states with the healthiest citizens. That means less absenteeism and more productivity for businesses.

Dayton said many business leaders are unhappy with his tax policies, but he pointed to the budget deficits he inherited, and the fact that the state is projected to see a $715 million surplus at the end of the current biennium.

“If those projections hold up, and if I’m re-elected, I would use a portion of that for business and individual tax reductions,” he said.

Talking about transportation, Dayton said the state’s problems have been 20 years in the making.

“Everyone agrees on transportation,” said Dayton. “Everyone wants the improvements, but no one wants to pay for it.”

Dayton did not blame his predecessor, Gov. Tim Pawlenty, for his reluctance to raise road taxes.

“No governor likes transportation program expansions. You have to raise the money, and no one likes that. Then you have to go through the inconvenience and detours while it’s being built, and no one likes that. And then, after you leave office your successor gets to cut the ribbon and take the credit.”

Dayton said he is asking Commissioner of Transportation Charlie Zelle to come up with lists of the kind of major highway projects that could be done with a billion-dollar transportation bonding bill. Dayton cautioned that such a level of funding is not likely to pass in the next couple of years. But that means legislators in 2015 will have some big decisions to make.

Projects like Highway 14 need to be done to save lives and stir economic development, he said, but the piecemeal approach the state has been using to accomplish it means Highway 14 might not get done for the next 20 years.

Dayton talked about his plans for an “Un-Session” this coming year, a session in which legislators would focus not on passing new legislation, but in reviewing existing state laws and deleting or streamlining those that are out of date or ineffective.

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