It should come as no surprise that Minnesota voters opted to keep a DFLer in the Governor’s Mansion this year. As the latest state budget forecast suggests, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton has left the state of Minnesota with a strong economy, improved public investment, and exceptional fiscal health. The governor will leave office next month with the state’s unemployment rate below three percent, with a projected state budget surplus in excess of $1 billion dollars and more than $2 billion in the state’s rainy day accounts.
Dayton deserves enormous credit for those accomplishments, particularly when one thinks back to the fiscal disaster he inherited from GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty. When Dayton took office in 2010, he faced a projected state budget deficit of $6.2 billion left behind by his predecessor. Pawlenty came into office having pushed through unsustainable tax cuts for the wealthy and spent eight years destroying the state’s finances as a result. In his desperate bid to balance the state’s books without adequate revenue, Pawlenty drained every reserve fund he could tap and even refused to pay out $1.4 billion in funds allocated by the Legislature for the state’s schools.
During his campaign for governor, Mark Dayton promised to do exactly the opposite. He openly advocated raising taxes on the state’s wealthiest. He won, and then followed through on his promise with the help of a DFL Legislature. Contrary to the claims of his GOP critics at the time, the tax increase didn’t prompt businesses to leave the state or fail to invest in Minnesota. In fact, Dayton has presided over a period of exceptional business and employment growth and will leave office with the state’s economy consistently ranked among the best state economies in the nation. It was a marked contrast to the anemic economic growth the state experienced under Pawlenty.
He also paid back the $1.4 billion that Pawlenty had withheld from schools and provided substantial new funding on top of that, leaving most schools in the best fiscal shape they’ve experienced in decades.
And by restoring Local Government Aid, which had been cut deeply under Pawlenty, Dayton helped stem the upward pressure on local property taxes, particularly in non-metro parts of the state. That has had a direct impact on communities throughout northeastern Minnesota, particularly places like Ely, Babbitt, and Virginia, which rely heavily on LGA to fund operations.
While his record as governor is one of real achievement, Mr. Dayton will likely be best remembered for his genuine decency and sincerity, two exceedingly rare commodities in politics these days. As the scion of the department store founder, Mr. Dayton clearly never entered politics as an occupation. He didn’t need to enter the fray and face the slings and arrows of his political critics. What we have witnessed in Mr. Dayton throughout his political career is a genuine desire to serve the public, and particularly those who, on occasion, need a helping hand. Time and again, Mr. Dayton has demonstrated compassion and has always been willing to listen to those who don’t have high-powered lobbyists to represent them. He may come from great wealth, but he has always recognized the challenges faced by average Minnesotans and has worked to make life here a little bit better and a little bit kinder. As he looks toward the end of his career in politics, Mr. Dayton has much of which he can be proud.
He entered political life with a sincere desire to make Minnesota a better place. He can enter retirement with the recognition that he has done exactly that.