MARSHALL - A day after signing a set of major bills to put a cherry on top of a short legislative session, Gov. Mark Dayton said Wednesday that this year's session was not only productive but balanced as well.
In a conference call with Greater Minnesota media to recap the 2014 session, Dayton said a number of key policy issues were dealt with and that the $1.1 billion public works bill will serve many communities around the state.
"I think it was a very productive session," Dayton said. "We finished on time, settled the state's fiscal situation in a balanced way. We got $550 million in tax relief, $150 million to the budget reserve and $31 million left on the bottom line. All in all, I think it was a very balanced session."
Dayton on Tuesday signed a tax bill providing another $103 million in property and business tax cuts on top of earlier rollbacks this session. He also approved $303 million in spending on schools, health care workers, broadband technology and other items. And he endorsed a pair of construction bills that contain $1.1 billion worth of projects from all over Minnesota, which Democrats say will put thousands of people to work.
Dayton, who is up for re-election, has called the last two years of single-party rule at the Capitol some of the most productive in memory.
Indeed, plenty was accomplished during this year's session.
Broadband legislation will give Greater Minnesota $20 million to expand high-speed Internet; the state passed a tougher bullying law that requires schools to track and investigate bullying cases and to better train teachers and staff on how to prevent it; lawmakers tightened gun laws, forcing people convicted of certain child or domestic abuse charges in the state to give up their firearms; after emotional testimony and debate, medical marijuana was legalized and will be available in pill or oil form in 2015; a boost to the state's minimum wage was approved, and it will go up by more than $3 during the next few years, hitting $9.50 by 2016; $22 million was awarded to the Lewis & Clark water project in the construction bill; also as part of the construction bill, lawmakers set aside $100 million for affordable housing; and Dayton's self-proclaimed "Un-session" resulted in more than 1,100 provisions being signed into law to help streamline state government. Five more "Un-session" bills were signed just Wednesday.
And, of course, local supporters of the Marshall regional amateur sports complex walked away happy, as the project finally received state bonding in the form of more than $4 million. That was major news for project backers, since not getting state support would've meant cutting back on bells and whistles as well as losing a sheet of ice.
"I was constrained, as were all the legislators with the bonding bill to the point where we could only fund less than one-third of the bonding requests, and we had a lot of difficult decisions to make, but this is a very worthwhile and well-planned project," said Dayton, whose stay in Marshall for the Governor's Pheasant Opener in 2012 gave project leaders the perfect chance to sell the sports complex to him. "Marshall is a regional center, so it stands to benefit many people in the area, Southwest Minnesota State University, and the area in general. It's a big win for everybody. I don't know if it will bring any more pheasants to your area though."
The overall construction package was $1.1 billion but contains $200 million in cash, drawn from the budget surplus. Dayton said he wasn't thrilled about how the bill was broken down.
"It's not the most prudent approach to that situation but because of the insistence of the Republicans that the $846 million number be adhered to, there really wasn't any alternative if we wanted to do all these projects," he said. "So many of these projects will be vital to their communities, to their region and to the entire state of Minnesota."