As the administration of Gov. Tim Walz prepares to lead Minnesota for the next four years, the former congressman from Mankato will certainly face hurdles and challenges. One thing is certain for the new governor: Minnesota is much better off today than it was eight years ago.
And much of that credit has to go to DFL Gov. Mark Dayton who was first elected in 2010 and won a second term in 2014.
In an hour-long upbeat meeting in mid-December with the Adams Publishing - ECM Editorial Board, Dayton recounted his views, especially emphasizing the state’s vastly improved financial condition and the adoption of a statewide plan for four-year-olds and kindergarteners.
It has not been an eight years filled only with positives. There have been setbacks.
Minnesota still struggles to secure a stable long-term funding solution for the state’s vital transportation system. The needs continue to grow for new roads and bridges and the maintenance of the existing highway system.
Dayton is not shy in expressing disappointment and frustration over the flawed 2013 launch of MNSure, the state’s health insurance marketplace. Improvements have been made, but its rocky start remains a disappointment to Dayton.
So too is the failed reboot of the state’s 30-year-old information technology system – the Minnesota Licensing and Registration System. The initial cost estimate of $30 million to redesign the system proved inaccurate and so far more than $100 million has been invested by the state. Still, the Department of Motor Vehicles computer system remains bogged down and legislative probes are exploring why. It remains a huge problem for the new governor.
He has been stubborn, perhaps sometimes to a fault. His distaste for late-session 900-page bills packed with spending and policy resulted in vetoes and government inefficiency at inopportune times. Some will blame Dayton but the failure, we believe, deserves to be shared by the Legislature.
As he reflects on eight years in office, Dayton can happily rattle off a long list of accomplishments that he believes will define his administration. There are many, ranging from education improvements to guiding the state from a huge budget deficit to a budget surplus.
When Dayton took office eight years ago, the state faced a $6.2 billion budget deficit and a budget reserve that was nearly empty. Complicating the financial picture was the need to repay school districts $1.8 billion that had been borrowed during the Pawlenty administration. Under Dayton’s leadership, the state’s financial position turned around thanks to fiscal management and a recovering economy. The budget deficit is now a $1.5 billion surplus and the budget reserve entering 2019 is $2 billion. The debt owed school districts was repaid by 2013.
The state’s economy has flourished under Dayton’s time in office. Eight years ago more than 200,000 state residents did not have jobs and the unemployment rate was 6.9 percent. Today, the unemployment rate is at a 19-year low of 2.8 percent and unemployment has been at or below 4 percent for the past 52 months. Since 2011, Minnesota added more than 300,000 jobs, meaning the state now has 2.98 million jobs, the most in history.
The state’s fiscal health has rebounded with tax reductions and increases. Dayton kept a campaign promise to increase taxes by 2 percent on the wealthiest 2 percent of Minnesotans while not raising income taxes on 98 percent of Minnesotans.
Dayton believes education will remain his signature achievement. He worked tirelessly to boost per pupil funding and close the equity gap that shortchanged greater Minnesota schools for years. His goal of achieving all-day kindergarten for all public school students is near complete as 99.6 percent of kids are enrolled in all-day programs at no tuition charge. Early-learning opportunities for kids younger than kindergarten have been launched. Dayton believes the stage is set for more kids to get a better start on school and life.
The list of accomplishments is long and impact lives today and in the future. What should not be forgotten is Dayton’s chosen life path of public service. Born to a family of wealth, Dayton’s life could have been far different. He chose service, first as a public school teacher in New York City before returning home for a career in politics. His record is laudable. Dayton’s career has included service as state auditor, U.S. senator and governor. Few Minnesotans have achieved as much.
It is regretful that a health setback and an extended stay at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester this fall prevented Dayton from one last state tour. He would have loved the opportunity to see firsthand the positives of the past eight years. As citizen Mark Dayton moves into retirement we wish him improved health, a fulfilling future and offer a tip-of-the-hat for a job well done.
– An opinion of the Adams Publishing – ECM Editorial Board. Reactions welcome. Send to: email@example.com.