Legislators: Now is time to act on issues

Published 1:35 pm Thursday, February 16, 2012

Local legislators say Gov. Mark Dayton’s second State of the State address highlighted good priorities, but much needs to be done before any of Dayton’s initiatives come to fruition.

Gov. Mark Dayton on Wednesday told lawmakers that creating jobs must be their top priority, and he called for setting aside partisan differences and working together to spark economic growth.

Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, agreed with the governor’s call for closer bipartisanship. She said both parties need to find a way to reach across the aisle to accomplish everything the state government needs to get done.

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“We really do need to put aside our rigid ideologies,” she said.

Dayton didn’t unveil any new policy initiatives or propose more spending on state programs, but the Democratic governor tried to set a more harmonious tone for a legislative session that got off to a prickly start after the Republican-controlled Senate removed one of his top appointees from office and he vetoed the first four bills the GOP sent to his desk.

“If we cooperate, if we share our best ideas, if we exchange our rigid ideologies for our shared ideals, we will revitalize our state. And we will be doing the jobs the people of Minnesota sent us here to do,” he said.

At the same time, Dayton’s message of bipartisanship is a footnote in a long call for such action by state officials. Rep. Rich Murray, R-Albert Lea, wants both parties to do something about bipartisanship instead of talking about it.

“Both sides have got to quit talking about closer bipartisanship,” Murray said. “Let’s have a little less talking and a little more doing. There are so many things that we agree on, but we get held up by minutiae.”

Minnesota is showing signs of a long-awaited economic recovery, Dayton said. The state’s unemployment rate is down, it has regained all the jobs lost during the Great Recession and the number of Minnesotans with jobs is at an all-time high.

Yet 168,000 Minnesotans who want to work can’t find jobs.

Dayton called on lawmakers to approve the three-part jobs initiative he proposed last month: a tax credit to encourage employers to hire the unemployed, veterans and recent college graduates; a $775 million bonding bill. Murray said he liked the governor’s message, but he found much of the governor’s proposals stressing short-term job solutions.

“What was said was great, but we need to do more,” Murray said. “Most of what I was hearing last night was very short term. I’m interested in what’s permanent, what’s long term.”

The key to a successful future is a world-class education system, Dayton continued, urging lawmakers to work together on proposals that are best for children, parents, teachers and administrators — not for issues that just sound good in campaign literature.

Poppe agreed, saying it’s not in the legislature’s best interest to exclude teachers from important decisions.

“There’s a lot of anti-teacher bills coming through right now,” Poppe said. “Why don’t we do what we can to encourage them to be part of the solution?”

What’s more, legislators hope to address the $700 million shift in state aid to schools the Legislature used to balance the state budget last year. The shift affects many school districts’ cash flow this year, with districts like Austin Public Schools borrowing millions on a short-term basis to pay bills.

“We need to find a way to pay back that shift,” said Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin.

Retooling Minnesota’s higher education system is key to giving students the skills they need to succeed in the highly competitive, constantly evolving global economy. To do that, colleges and universities need state-of-the-art curricula and classrooms.

Republicans have said their education priorities include basing teacher layoffs on their effectiveness rather than seniority, linking teacher pay to performance and giving parents more choice by allowing them to petition converting their low-performing public schools into charter schools.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.