Gov. Mark Dayton proclaimed the state of Minnesota as "better" during his annual State of the State address to the Legislature Wednesday evening.
"When I ran for governor four years ago I promised a better Minnesota," he told the audience. "The state of our state is better, much better than it was before. Better for us, and for those who will inherit it from us. But we have much more to do."
Governors usually deliver their state of the state speech at the beginning of each year's legislative session, not the end. But Dayton delayed it this year because of his recovery from hip surgery.
In a speech that was long on statistics, Dayton ticked off a long list of accomplishments during the three years since he was elected governor, focusing on economic growth and job creation.
-- The state recently increased its minimum wage, which will eventually reach $9.50 per hour.
-- Minnesota has the fifth-fasted growing economy of any state in the country.
-- Minnesota has 2.8 million jobs today, more than ever before. That's 150,000 more than there were three years ago.
-- The new Vikings and Saints stadiums being built are creating thousands of new construction jobs and revitalizing areas of downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul.
-- The Mayo Clinic's Destination Medical Center in Rochester will double Mayo's employment in 20 years and foster a huge economic boost in that city and statewide.
Dayton emphasized that none of those projects would have occurred without the support and involvement of government on the state and local levels, challenging critics who say that government in the state is overreaching.
Dayton also highlighted increased funding for public education as well as the new MNsure health insurance exchange program as evidence of a "better Minnesota."
He challenged the Legislature to address several major issues next year, including coming up with more money and a stable funding source for Minnesota's transportation infrastructure.
Dayton also spent a fair amount of time talking about education priorities next year. Among those will be a thorough analysis of all the high-stakes testing that students take at each grade level, to see which ones can be streamlined or eliminated; a push for access to early childhood education for all 3-and 4-year olds in Minnesota; and a discussion over whether the K-12 school days and school years should be lengthened.
You can read Dayton's entire speech here.
Dayton is running for re-election in November, hoping for a second four-year term leading the state. A number of Republicans are vying for their party's nomination to run against him, and they panned his speech Wednesday night.
Businessman Scott Honour issued a statement saying, "Under Gov. Dayton, our state is underachieving its potential due to his big government agenda and lack of leadership. We are accepting mediocrity, instead of striving for excellence."
State Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, another gubernatorial candidate, said Dayton and the DFL-controlled Legislature has pushed a liberal agenda that is out of step with Minnesota.
Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson said the speech was basically Dayton's kickoff to his re-election campaign. He said he didn't listen to the speech due to a prior commitment at his church. " I’m actually glad I spent the evening at church instead of listening to Dayton preach to the DFL choir."