Dayton prioritizes education

Published 10:03 am Thursday, February 10, 2011

Local legislators are hopeful about investments in education after Gov. Mark Dayton urged lawmakers to increase public education funding in his State of the State address yesterday.

“This laid the road map for where he wants to go,” Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, said. “We have to focus on jobs and investing in education — and not only education, but better education.”

Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, said the governor’s speech was inspiring. She agrees that investments, primarily in education, would eventually reduce the need for spending in the criminal justice system and welfare programs.

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“When we put money into education, we actually reduce the need for other special services and other aspects of the budget,” Poppe said. “It’s a rethinking and redoing of the money picture.”

Dayton said his request for increased state aid for public education will include money to make all-day kindergarten an option for every child. He said he will ask lawmakers to create a special transportation authority to pursue new public and private financing of road construction. And he put in another pitch for his $1 billion push for state-backed construction using long-term bonds.

“When we’re putting money into education we’ll probably be taking money away from other areas eventually, and that’s better for all of us in the state,” Poppe said. “It’s a great equalizer to make sure students in Austin are able to get the same education as students in Eagan, as students in LeRoy.”

Republicans like freshman Rep. John Kriesel of Cottage Grove struggled to square Dayton’s bid for additional school dollars with the broader budget mess.

“We have to look for ways to reduce spending,” Kriesel said. “When he talks about looking for ways we should be spending more, I think that’s counterproductive.”

With his full budget proposal due out next week, Dayton stressed the need for solutions, especially to avoid a government shutdown.

“I ask you, legislators; I invite you; I implore you — to join with me now, right here in our Capitol and pledge to the people of Minnesota that we will not shut down their government, our government,” Dayton said.

If state leaders can’t reach a deal prior to July 1, parts of government would be temporarily shuttered. Dayton called that option “absolutely unthinkable.” It happened in Minnesota six years ago during a budget standoff.

“There’s no reason to even think about a government shutdown at this point,” Sparks said.

“We’ve got over a hundred days to try and figure this out,” Poppe added. “Let’s do that.”

Dayton repeated that he plans to seek a new top-end income tax — an approach that the GOP opposes. He withheld details about who would be hit by the proposed tax or how high it would be.

“Some will criticize me for proposing next week to ask those successful businessmen and women and wealthy Minnesotans to pay higher taxes,” Dayton said. “I ask them for their forbearance during this fiscal crisis, which I did not create, but inherited, and now, with you in the Legislature, must solve.”

Despite Dayton’s call for unity in addressing Minnesota’s budget problems, there are ample signs of discord.

In seeking his no-shutdown pledge, Dayton noted that a legislative committee has already started looking into the effects of one. He said lawmakers have 103 days to avoid one — a timetable that takes the Legislature to its May 23 adjournment deadline.

But Sparks stressed that the Legislature will adjourn on time and with a budget solution.

“There’s no reason we can’t negotiate this budget and get everything done before that May 23 deadline,” he said. “We’ll have to wait and see when (Dayton) comes out with his full budget next week how he plans to pay for education and what other programs will be cut.”

The AP contributed to this report.