As the final legislative session of Gov. Mark Dayton's administration kicks off at the State Capitol, it is a time for reflection and progress. It is a moment to recognize the many ways our state is better off since Dayton first took office, and an opportunity to ensure every Minnesotan shares in this prosperity.
When Dayton was sworn in, he inherited a struggling state. Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty had left Minnesota in economic shambles. Pawlenty raided every single pot of funds possible so that he could say he didn't raise taxes. He depended on short-term budget Band-Aids to keep Minnesota above water. He took billions from our schools and depleted local government aid. Unsurprisingly, our state was in a bad place at the end of his term. There was an over $6 billion deficit. Taxes unfairly favored the wealthy. Our schools were under-funded, and over 200,000 Minnesotans were out of work.
Thanks to hard work and progressive policies, Dayton and Democrats in the Legislature turned Minnesota around. They transformed a decade of deficits into repeated budget surpluses. They put Minnesotans back to work and brought our state's unemployment rate to its lowest in 17 years. They repaired our crumbling roads and bridges. They not only repaid our schools the money Pawlenty had taken from them-they invested heavily in our education system and enrolled 80,000 kids in all-day kindergarten and early learning programs.
Our state is now consistently ranked one of the best places to live in the country. But there is still more work to do to ensure everyone in our state shares in this progress. Many Minnesotans, especially people in Greater Minnesota and people of color, have been left behind in today's economy. They worry about how they will pay their next medical bill, who can take off work to take care of their aging parent, or what day care they can afford for their child. They live with a knot of anxiety in their stomach.
This legislative session, Democrats and Republicans must work together to untie these knots. They must build on the policies and investments of the last seven years, and bring a better Minnesota to every family's doorstep. That means addressing the rising cost of health care. It means raising wages and improving workplace benefits. It means improving our water quality, providing world-class educations, and ensuring we have the infrastructure we need to compete in the 21st century.
Dayton and Democrats in the State Legislature promised to build a better Minnesota-and they delivered. Now we must ensure every Minnesotan in every corner of our state is sharing in this growth. Because in the words of Sen. Paul Wellstone, "We all do better when we all do better."
Martin is chairman of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.