Switching gears: Dayton serves breakfast, talks Capitol issues with ECM Editorial Board

After helping serve breakfast to some Coon Rapids elementary school youngsters on Wednesday morning, June 4, Gov. Mark Dayton, with a trusty walking cane at his side, stopped by the corporate offices of ECM Publishers to talk issues with the ECM Editorial Board.

“If we could lower the voting age to 5, we might win re-election,” Dayton chuckled about his schmoozing with elementary school students. A school staff member jokingly fired back at Dayton, saying, “It would be close.”

Dayton said he and his staff will wait until Jan. 5, 2015, to see if they will be employed or not.

He said he and his staff will be moving out of the state Capitol in three weeks and relocating in temporary offices due to restoration work being done on the Capitol.

“We’re getting kicked out of the Capitol in three weeks and will be moving into the Veterans Affairs Building,” Dayton explained. He said the governor and staff will not return to the Capitol for 2 1/2 years.

“I’ve got a full-time job and will continue to operate as a non-political operation, and no one believes that,” Dayton said in a vein of laughter.

Giving a hint of some of the issues that might be pressing the next governor of Minnesota, Dayton mentioned, not necessarily in order, transportation, education, legalization of marijuana and jobs.

Dayton said it is imperative that the state invest more in transportation.

“The trouble is, nobody wants to pay for it,” he said. Dayton said a proposal has been formulated to dedicate $6 billion to transportation, maintaining it and improving it. A solid transportation system is “essential to maintain the economic vitality” of the state, Dayton claimed.

Asked how he plans to pay for an ambitious transportation program, Dayton mentioned a sales tax and a reallocation of funds from the general fund to help with issuance of construction bonds. He predicted “something significant” will be passed the next session.

Dayton spoke briefly about the controversy surrounding the Southwest Light Rail Transit Line and lessons learned that might help the process with the proposed Bottineau Transitway (METRO Blue Line extension). He said he has been critical of the Metropolitan Council staff and board for the processes used in trying to settle the future of Southwest Line. “They had to foresee the choke point” as early as 2004, Dayton said.

In education circles, Dayton said he was very pleased to sign the new law to authorize $569,000 for an initiative ensuring all 64,000 Minnesota kindergartners have access to a  healthy breakfast, free of charge. He said he will look into expanding the free breakfast program for all elementary kids and even for middle school students.

“We will try to give kids good nutrition and teach better eating habits for kids,” Dayton said.

Dayton also said he favors a more rigorous school year. He said no more waivers will be authorized for four-day school weeks.

“We need more hours in school,” Dayton said.

Dayton said it is very likely that supporters of the legalization of marijuana will again be at the Capitol next year. He said much of the criticism he received for supporting adopted medical marijuana legislation came from Washington, D.C.-based organizations whose mission is to legalize marijuana.

“They want the ability to grow and smoke the leaves,” Dayton said. The governor said the matter could be resolved by a constitutional amendment or by legislation. He said he would oppose it. “It’s a sticky wicket,” Dayton added.

In talking about the economy, Dayton said 145,000 more people are working today than when he took office four years ago. He is concerned, however, that 60,000 jobs are unfilled because the qualified applicants are not there. He listed engineers, mechanical draftsmen and toolmakers as examples of potential job openings.

Dayton said he hopes to work with the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system and the University of Minnesota about a need to align the curriculum and training with the jobs of the future. Under-funding education programs causes a shortage of workers, Dayton said. He said Minnesota ranks 49th in the U.S. for guidance counseling, an area that could lead to more available workers, he said.

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