Dayton signs bill to stabilize public employee pensions

NEW ULM — Gov. Mark Dayton said Thursday that he signed the last bill of his gubernatorial career, and is happy that he went out on a high note.

Dayton signed the public pension stabilization bill, which will clear up unfunded pension liabilities and put the state on the path to fully fund state pensions within 30 years.

The bill ensures that Minnesota public employee pension plans remain solvent, and that promises to retired public employees will be kept. In all, over half a million beneficiaries will benefit from the reforms.

The measure gained overwhelming bipartisan support in the Legislature, and Dayton thanked he state’s pension commission, legislators and Minnesota Management and Budget commissioner Myron Frans for the success of the bill.

In a conference call with outstate media, the governor touched on a variety of topics coming out of the legislative session.

A day earlier Dayton signed the public works bill, or bonding bill. While he said he had misgivings about it, Dayton said his main concern was that Republicans didn’t do enough, insisting on an unnecessarily low $825 million package. Dayton himself had proposed $1.5 billion in projects, and said the Republicans’ insistence on keeping the total low left out many necessary and worthwhile projects, things like basic repairs for buildings on state university and college campuses, and needed repairs for state parks. Putting those projects off will only increase the deterioration of the facilities and make them more costly in the future.

The final public works bill included millions more in spending funded by other sources than bonding, a trend Dayton said sets a bad precedent.

Dayton praised the addition of some $500 million in transportation projects, including $400 million for Corridors of Commerce. The funding will allow the Highway 14 Project to widen the highway between Owatonna and Dodge Center, and gives hope that the Nicollet to New Ulm section won’t be far behind.

Dayton said he had been in contact with the Highway 14 Partnership from the time he was elected to the U.S. Senate 17 years ago, and he commented on the group’s persistence and dedication.

The governor also spoke on the tax conformity bill he vetoed last week, repeating his criticism that the bill Republicans passed dedicated too much tax relief to high income wage earners and businesses, and would have set the state up in a few years for revenue losses and deficits similar to the deficits he faced when he first became governor.

The governor said a special session on the tax issue wasn’t going to happen. While he said he was willing to talk to anyone about the issue, Republicans have made it clear they won’t accept the governor’s proposals. Dayton said he has tried to reach agreement with Republicans in the past couple of years to set up special sessions, but has never been able to make it happen. He said he didn’t know why this year would be any different.