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Governor promotes tax-and-spend plan, gay marriage

Gov. Mark Dayton tells Minnesota legislators and Minnesotans during his State of the State speech Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, that state finances are better than when he took office. With him are State Auditor Rebecca Otto, front left, Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon, front right; Senate President Sandy Pappas and House Speaker Paul Thissen. -- Forum News Service photo by Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota is doing better than most neighboring states, Gov. Mark Dayton told legislators and Minnesotans Wednesday night in his third State of the State address.

And it is doing better than two years ago, he added.

"Minnesota's job growth in 2012 was the 12th best among all 50 states; and we outperformed three of our four neighbors," Dayton said during a 48-minute speech that was politely received by lawmakers. "Iowa ranked 30th best; South Dakota was 44th."

He continued a rivalry with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, saying Wisconsin "helped bring up the rear at 42nd. And, help spread the word across the St. Croix, their unemployment rate last month was 20 percent higher than ours, while our per capita income was 12 percent higher than theirs."

Dayton added that only North Dakota led Minnesota in the region, with an oil-fueled job growth that led the country.

Overall, Dayton told legislators Wednesday night that state leaders must attack Minnesota's problems head on.

"We can choose, as others in our positions have before us, to ignore these growing problems, avoid fixing them and hope they don't crash down upon us while we're in office," Dayton said. "Or we can lead. That is what the people of Minnesota elected us to do."

Dayton's speech centered on promoting his higher-taxes and higher-spending budget proposal. It came in front of a Legislature with a Republican minority that does not like what he proposes and a Democratic majority that has yet to offer its full support.

The governor praised the state's agriculture efforts, saying ag commodity exports rose 13 percent last year. He also singled out education achievements, touting higher math and reading scores.

Most of his time, however, was spent on money matters.

Even though Dayton says only the 2 percent highest earning Minnesotans would be taxed more, lawmakers have plenty of questions about how his proposal will affect the middle class.

His budget plan would plug a $1.1 billion deficit, but the state still would owe schools that amount.

One non-money matter he brought up was what he sees as a need to allow gay marriages. Even though voters defeated a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages last November, state law still does not allow same-sex couples to wed.

Republicans said this probably is not the time for such a change. House GOP Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said it is time to focus on the budget and creating jobs, not social issues.

Dayton's proposed two-year budget would spend nearly $38 billion and bring in more than $3 billion in new taxes.

The plan released last month includes more spending for education and jobs programs while erasing a $1.1 billion state deficit. Dayton also proposes a series of tax changes.

The plan also would reduce the sales tax rate from 6.875 percent to 5.5 percent but expand what is taxed to include most services, such as haircuts and auto repairs, and those businesses provide to other businesses.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.