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Dayton wants 10 percent budget hike

Commissioner Myron Frans of Minnesota Management and Budget shows reporters at chart during a Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017, unveiling of Gov. Mark Dayton's budget plan. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

ST. PAUL — Raising Minnesota's next two-year budget nearly 10 percent is Gov. Mark Dayton's ask.

"We must wisely invest and use our resources," his finance commissioner, Myron Frans, told reporters on Tuesday, Jan. 24, in announcing hopes to increase spending for transportation, education, local governments and other budget areas.

The Dayton plan would spend almost $46 billion in the two years beginning July 1. That 9.6 percent boost is too much for Republicans, but GOP leaders said they have not had time to dissect the Dayton proposal.

"Minnesota is doing better, much better than it was before," Dayton said. "But too many Minnesotans are still being left behind. We can and must do better."

The Democratic governor said his funding priorities are education, transportation and human services, areas such as health care insurance.

The budget, like his State of the State speech written for Monday night, emphasized familiar issues he has held dear since he assumed the office in 2011. This two-year budget is his last chance to get funding for programs before he leaves office in early 2019.

Education always has been a top Dayton priority.

"When I took office in 2011, I promised to increase Minnesota's investments in E-12 education every year I was governor, with no excuses, no exceptions," Dayton said in his State of the State speech to lawmakers. "With your support, we have kept that promise, and I'm not going to abandon it now." On Tuesday, he proposed adding money for initiatives such as increasing per-pupil spending in public school districts 2 percent each of the next two years, costing nearly $311 million. He also called for adding $75 million for allowing more voluntary pre-kindergarten programs.

"We cannot expect our schools to be successful, or our economy to flourish, if we fail our kids before they even enter their classrooms..." he said Monday night. "The best way to close the achievement gap is to stop it before it begins." On Tuesday, he said that 160 Minnesota school districts failed to get money lawmakers earlier approved for pre-kindergarten classes, but it had run out.

His second priority is transportation, including transit programs around the state.

The latest estimates are that the state needs $18 billion over the next 20 years to bring roads and bridges up to standards.

"We must provide enough additional revenues, dedicated to transportation, to make the improvements, urgently needed, over the next decade," Dayton said.

Dayton continued to push a higher gasoline tax, even though Republicans strongly oppose it. He said a dime a gallon increase would cost an average Minnesotan $75 a year, which he said would not be objectionable.

But with a surplus topping $1 billion, GOP leaders said a new tax is not needed.

"The most troubling thing in this budget ... is tax increases," House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said.

The Republican-controlled Legislature did not get an advance look at the budget, so its leaders had little specific reaction.

Now that Dayton has released his proposal, House and Senate committees will look at parts of the overall budget. At some point, legislative leaders will set spending limits for each area, such as transportation, education, higher education, etc.

In late February or early March, state officials will release an economic report with updated information, which will provide information to Dayton to tweak his budget and set legislative budget committees on the path to passing their plans before the session must end in May.

Funding broadband high-speed internet expansion, mostly in greater Minnesota, has been a hard sell in some past sessions. But Daudt said that with so many of his members from rural areas, it is possible they may consider Dayton's proposal is to spend $60 million over two years.

Dayton said that broadband is a life-and-death issue for small, rural communities.

The governor's spending plan would add $318 million to higher education. While he said he would like the two state higher education systems to keep tuition as close to static as possible, he does not plan to demand a tuition freeze.

His proposal would boost state college student grants by $62 million, which the administration says would increase financial aid for 82,400 students and give 6,400 more students the grants.

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.
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