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Dayton asks for more education spending, state unity in inauguration speech

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We now have an idea of Gov. Mark Dayton's priorities heading into the lawmaking season.

At the swearing-in ceremony for his second term, Dayton used his speech to emphasize education spending in the state – and basically, he wants a lot more of it.

The 67-year-old first attacked education from a jobs perspective. He noted economic indicators such as unemployment have gone down since he first took office, yet many people feel the divide between the lower- and upper-class is larger than ever.

The fix, Dayton argued, is education; lifting Minnesota's schooling "from good to excellent."

A recent U.S. Census report, he said, found Minnesota ranks 24th in the country when it comes to per-pupil elementary and secondary school spending. That study showed the state spends $10,796 per pupil. The high was New York at $19,552, and the low was Utah at $6,206.

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In addition, Dayton said, the state is spending its lowest amount of real dollars in 30 years on higher education.

The speech (which you can read in full here) comes just a day before the 2015 legislative session officially starts. Education spending is expected to be one of the main topics, along with a bevy of other issues.

"In the coming months, we will make important decisions about spending or investing a projected state budget surplus of $1 billion," Dayton said Monday. "We could spend it to provide goods and services for more people. We could spend it to provide tax cuts for some people.

"I recommend that our top priority be to invest it in a better future – first and foremost, by investing it in excellent education. ... And making that educational excellence available to everyone."

Twin Cities vs. Greater Minnesota

Dayton also took time to pitch Minnesota as one unified state, not defined by a Cities-vs-Greater Minnesota rivalry (as some have suggested).

"What helps one region usually benefits our entire state. Not always, but usually," he said. "Good farm prices in southern Minnesota boost sales and revenues in metro stores. Shops in Duluth do better, when the Range is at full production. ... So let’s cheer each other’s successes, not resent them."

Of note: Dayton was criticized during the campaign for focusing too much on Minneapolis and St. Paul, and not enough outstate.

Other inaugurations

In addition to Dayton, a handful of other newly elected officials were sworn in.

Lt. Gov. Tina Smith – taking over for the outgoing Yvonne Prettner Solon – described Minnesota as a hotbed of innovation in her speech.

Also Monday, Steve Simon was sworn in as the new secretary of state; Lori Swanson as returning attorney general; and Rebecca Otto as the state auditor.

The Associated Press noted no Republican legislators showed up to the event. All of those sworn in are Democrats.

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