NEW ULM - Governor Mark Dayton expressed satisfaction with most of what happened in the 2014 legislative session in a conference call with outstate reporters on Wednesday.
Dayton said it was a productive session that ended on time and settled the state's financial issues "in a balanced way."
The governor was pleased that $550 million of the state's $1.2 billion surplus went for tax relief, and that another $150 million went to the state's budget cash reserve.
The governor said that using $199 million in cash to supplement the state's bonding bill "was not the most prudent situation," but that it was a necessary expense brought about by Republican legislators' insistence on an $846 million bonding limit. It was "money necessarily spent" to complete a list of deserving projects in the state, he said.
The state's supplemental spending bill "was more than I would like to see," but the items that were included were "genuinely needed."
The governor pointed to some expenses that drew wide bipartisan support, such as $20 million for relief for propane users, and $80 million to give long overdue raises to health care aides.
The governor praised policy measures, including the anti-bullying bill and the minimum wage increase that he said will help the state.
The governor had critical words for some of the failures in the legislative session. The Legislature failed to address changes that the judiciary is demanding in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program.
The program, which commits the most dangerous sex offenders to treatment programs after their prison sentences are up. Although justices and appeals court panels are strongly critical of the program and are likely to rule it an unconstitutional incarceration, legislators did not address the issue when they had a chance this session.
Dayton said there is a lack of political will, "absent a court order," in the Legislature to make changes in the program. He said it is a tough problem, and the program will be costly to change, as well as unpopular. No one, he said, wants to be seen as moving dangerous sex predators out of secure lockups into less restrictive programs.
The governor was also critical of legislators who he said "sided with the pipeline companies" in opposing stricter safety regulations for pipeline construction in the state. The issue is going to be an important one in northern Minnesota where some major pipeline construction is coming up.
The governor also expressed his support for the Lewis and Clark water project in southeast Minnesota, and said he was disappointed that the federal government's support has faltered before the project is completed.
Dayton responded to a question about the newly repealed business to business sales taxes, and why no refund was authorized for farmers who had to pay sales tax last summer on farm equipment repairs.
Dayton said it would have been a complicated and difficult process to process the transactions and set up a refund. "The feeling was in the tax committees it was better to wipe the slate clean and move on from here," the governor said.
The governor also defended the minimum wage increase over criticism from small business owners that it will make it tougher for them to do business. Dayton said the increase, to raise the state's minimum wage from $6.15 an hour would take working people from out of the poverty level. "We're not talking about putting people into the fourth tax bracket," he said.
The increase in pay will probably be spent locally on necessities, and will help raise local economies by increasing people's spendable income.
Dayton did say he would be open to corrective measures if there was demonstrable proof that the minimum wage increase was causing economic problems.