Gov. Mark Dayton gave a forceful defense of his economic and job-creation efforts Wednesday night, prodding legislators to invest more in education and transportation while spending ambitiously on state projects.

“While we have made great progress toward a better Minnesota, it should also serve as a reminder of the work left to do,” Dayton said. “We have to invest in growth, quality and effectiveness.”

The DFL governor used his final State of the State address before the election to stress that the state is now on firm financial footing and better positioned to make lasting improvements for coming generations. As part of that focus, he is seeking a new look at education, which he says should include more class days and keeping schools open longer each day.

The speech comes at an important time for Dayton as he heads into what is already shaping up as a tough and expensive re-election fight. Dayton is coming off a string of legislative victories, including raising the minimum wage, an anti-bullying measure and a round of tax relief for low- and middle-income Minnesotans. But some polls have showed Dayton’s approval slipping and GOP rivals are hammering him at every turn.

“It’s unfortunate that Mark Dayton decimated Minnesota tradition tonight by turning the State of the State address into his own personal re-election speech,” said GOP gubernatorial rival Jeff Johnson, a Hennepin County commissioner. “Governor Dayton didn’t come to my campaign kickoff event, and I didn’t feel the need to go to his.”

In a hint of the election season to come, Dayton defended MNsure, the state’s health insurance exchange, which after a troubled launch is now hitting or exceeding early enrollment targets. Dayton took on the topic as Republicans continue to intensify their criticism of MNsure.