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Lawmakers say state of state is improving

ST. PAUL - Legislators generally agreed with Gov. Mark Dayton that jobs are a key priority this year, although some hoped to hear more specific policy ideas from him during his Wednesday night State of the State speech.

"He talked a lot about job creation, and that is truly the reason ... all legislators are here," Sen. Ted Lillie, R-Lake Elmo, said.

Many lawmakers agreed with Dayton that while there still is work to be done, the state is headed in the right direction.

"We're in a state of recovery," Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, said.

As Dayton said in his speech, unemployment numbers are starting to drop. People are spending a little more. Within the past year, the signs of an improving economy are starting to become evident, Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said.

"We are starting to see a little inkling that the economy is moving forward," he said, adding, "we need to make sure to help and not hinder that."

Both DFL and Republican lawmakers could agree with some of Dayton's proposals.

"It is my hope that we can work swiftly, in a bipartisan manner, to get these (jobs) policies passed so that we can begin getting Minnesotans back to work now, rather than later," Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, said.

Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, said he was happy to hear the governor concur on the need for government reforms.

Dayton's focus on a bonding bill to fund public works projects also sat well with many legislators.

"I enthusiastically agree with the governor in urging the Legislature to pass a bonding bill early this session," Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, said.

But Rep. Mark Murdock, R-Ottertail, noted that the governor said the state should stop borrowing money, but "bonding is borrowing."

There were disappointments Wednesday as well.

"It was a little bit short on policy proposals," Thompson said of Dayton's speech.

"I was hoping he would say he would not raise taxes, so that was disappointing," Murdock said.

Some said the governor remained divisive even while he promoted bipartisan efforts.

"He said 'let's work together,' and then he took shots at Republicans," Thompson said.

Businesses also still are struggling, lawmakers said, especially small ones.

"The fact that sales tax has not performed quite as we hoped shows me main street is not quite healthy," Rep. Dave Hancock, R-Bemidji, said.

Hancock said there is a lot of uncertainty in the business community, much centered on health care changes, taxes and regulations.

But people are ready to make the most of a recovering economy, he added.

"The entrepreneurial spirit is there," Hancock said.

The changes and decisions made during July's special session improved the state's financial situation, Kelly said.

"The goal is to keep it going," he said. "We have the momentum, now I'm hoping we can build on it."

Last year's budget deal left the state with problems, Sieben said. Repaying schools after a funding shift that was part of the budget deal now is critical, she said.

Reinert agreed that education should be a focus during this legislative session.

"There's much to be done in this area, especially given the state's obligation to pay back the $2.1 billion K-12 school shift and the continual rise in college tuition costs around the state," he said.