With the primary election nearly here, Democratic voters will have to decide among three gubernatorial candidates that agree on many issues, but have important differences of opinion on others.
Most Democratic voters will choose either former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, Minnesota House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher or former legislator Matt Entenza to represent their party in the general election this November.
The biggest difference among the three DFL candidates is on taxes. All the candidates agree that taxes must be raised, but they disagree on how to raise more revenue.
Dayton wants to raise taxes by $4 billion over two years. Under his plan individuals with taxable incomes of $130,000 or more per year and couples making more than $150,000 a year would pay higher income taxes.
"As my friend and colleague Paul Wellstone used to say 'The Democratic wing of the Democratic party had as one of its fundamental principles progressive taxes.' And the plan that my two DFL friends are proposing would not make taxes progressive," he said.
Both Kelliher and Entenza say they would also raise income taxes; their increases would hit only people earning $250,000 or more a year. Kelliher said Dayton's plan goes too far.
"I don't think that we can go to be the highest tax rate in the country and that's exactly what we would do under Sen. Dayton's plan," Kelliher said. "We would be higher than Hawaii and I don't think that, in the time of a recession, is a good idea."
Kelliher said she'd like to close what she calls tax loopholes for corporations that operate overseas. She also wants to continue a $1.2 billion school payment delay that the Legislature enacted in May and said she could cut government spending by improving efficiency. But she hasn't offered specifics on what she would cut.
“The plan that my two DFL friends are proposing would not make taxes progressive.”Mark Dayton
Entenza also wants to continue the school payment delay. He said the state could save money if it paid for health care based on whether patients actually get better -- instead of based on how many tests and procedures they get.
"Because right now if you go into the doctor and say 'I have a sore throat,' and you're on our public programs, the incentive is to give 10 different tests," he said.
Entenza said he won't pledge to spend more on schools until the state balances its budget. But his plans may add to the state's projected $6 billion budget deficit. For months, Entenza has called for the state to opt out of the federal No Child Left Behind law.
"We won't be teaching to tests and we'll free up teacher time because we'll be scrapping No Child Left Behind," Entenza said. "I think people want a realistic candidate who can make promises that he or she can deliver on. When you're promising new spending and no source of money for that, you're making commitments that will be impossible to keep."
Entenza said he's confident Minnesota could get approval to leave the federal testing standards but won't say who he's talked to in the Obama Administration. Without such a waiver, the state could lose roughly $440 million in federal school funding. Kelliher said Minnesota can't afford to give federal money away.
Dayton is also eying another potential revenue pot to help balance the state's budget. He's the only one of the three candidates who supports a state-run casino.
"We need to look at every possible source of revenue and that's why I said I would consider one state owned and operated casino at the Mall of America or at the airport to provide Mystic Lake with some much needed competition," Dayton said.
The one other key difference between the candidates is money. Both Dayton and Entenza have spent millions of dollars of their own to pay for their campaigns. Kelliher has raised more than a million dollars in small contributions.