DFLer Mark Dayton claimed Thursday that he's the only gubernatorial candidate to offer a specific plan to erase a state budget deficit.
His opponents took the opportunity to blast Dayton's budget plan, and each touted the specificity of their plans, to varying degrees.
The next governor will face a projected state budget deficit of nearly $6 billion. Dayton has repeatedly said he would erase most of that shortfall through higher income taxes and tighter tax compliance targeted at Minnesota's wealthiest residents.
Dayton said DFL, Republican and Independence Party candidates have criticized his "tax the rich" proposal, without offering any specific alternatives. He said those candidates have so far ducked the issue, and he wants them to start leveling with voters.
"I'm talking about raising close to $5 billion. No one else has proposed even raising $2 billion, or just $2 billion, and without specifying where even that would come from," he said.
Dayton claims the other candidates for governor have offered only pablum and platitudes about the budget, while he's offering specifics.
Those other candidates disagree.
House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, the DFL's endorsed candidate, said she already has a solid outline for balancing the budget, which she continues to work on with her running mate John Gunyou, a former state finance commissioner. Kelliher is proposing new revenue too, but she said only about one-third of her budget solution would come from taxes.
"Minnesotans expect a balanced approach to this budget, an approach that would make those who are earning the most in Minnesota pay their fair share, those earning over $250,000 a year," she said. "But also closing corporate loopholes, doing things that are going to make sure that we are reforming our tax system and being able to really make sure taxes are fair."
Kelliher said Dayton's tax proposal goes too far and is not realistic.
Former state Rep. Matt Entenza, the other DFL primary candidate, offered a similar response. In a written statement, Entenza said Dayton is proposing a politically impossible tax hike on the middle class.
Entenza also said one-third of his deficit solution would come from taxes, one-third from spending cuts and one-third from budget shifts. Entenza was not available for an interview.
Tom Horner, the Independence Party's endorsed candidate, said Dayton's contention that other candidates haven't offered specifics just isn't true. Horner says he's provided significant details on how he would balance the budget to newspaper editorial boards throughout the state.
Horner said he wants to reduce business taxes and expand the sales tax. When it comes to budget plans, Horner is claiming his own distinction.
"I'm the only candidate who is providing details of a balanced approach to fixing the budget," Horner said. "A balanced approach that includes tax reform, spending reductions and government redesign."
The Republican endorsed candidate for governor, Tom Emmer, is also promising a distinct approach to the budget. Emmer is the only candidate who said he won't raise taxes. He's also talking in general terms about deep spending cuts.
Emmer was not available for comment, but a campaign spokesman said he plans to release a framework of how he will solve the budget deficit after finishing his summer listening tour of the state.