Democrat Mark Dayton and Independence Party candidate Tom Horner today criticized Republican Tom Emmer for proposing a slate of tax cuts that will increase the state's budget deficit by $620 million.
The three candidates took part in a debate Tuesday in Duluth -- the first time all three candidates debated the issues outside of the metro area since the August 10 primary.
Republican Tom Emmer suggests the only way the state can dig its way out of its deep budget hole is to spur economic activity, and he said the best way to do that is to cut the taxes businesses pay. He said his plan will grow the deficit in the short-term but reduce it after businesses relocate or start in Minnesota.
"Your job creators need to be allowed to keep more of their resources to reinvest in their business, to start hiring again, to start buying more equipment (and) to start growing again," Emmer said. "Because the more people that are employed, the more revenues you'll ultimately generate to pay for the services that we have all come to expect."
Emmer also argued that Minnesota can "live within its means" by not spending more than it will collect in revenue. During the debate, he argued that tough decisions have to be made, but he refused to outline which programs he would cut to erase the state's $5.8 billion budget deficit.
Democrat Mark Dayton criticized Emmer for his lack of specifics. He suggested Emmer will have to cut core government services like schools, health care and local government aid.
"They said we're going to spend, you have the figure correct, $38 billion in the next biennium," Dayton said. "You want to reduce that to $32 billion, so that means you have to cut $6 billion in the next biennium. So just tell us straightforward."
The two candidates continued to spar over the issue.
Emmer: "When are you going to start representing these people instead of government?"
Dayton: "The fiscal integrity of Minnesota is something absolutely needs to be protected."
Emmer: "How about the fiscal integrity of the citizens?"
Dayton: "Just tell us where are you going to cut the $6 billion to bring the budget back into balance?"
Emmer: "We are going to live within our means, sir."
Dayton is proposing higher income taxes for individuals with taxable incomes higher than $130,000 and couples with an annual after tax income of $150,000 or more. Tom Horner with the Independence Party criticized both Emmer and Dayton for arguing with one another. He said his plan would cut spending and raise taxes.
Horner is proposing to extend the sales tax to clothing and some services while lowering the overall rate. He also wants to allow slot machines at the state's horse tracks.
Horner spent most of his time in Duluth criticizing Emmer. He said Emmer failed to address the budget problem during his six years in the Legislature and warned of the consequences if Emmer is elected.
"Take Rep. Emmer at his word, do nothing. No changes in the line-item. We will have a surplus," Horner said. "School districts won't be paid back the $2 billion that were borrowed from them; businesses will be paying the accelerated sales tax that the state is borrowing from them; hospitals will still be closing because we have cut GAMC and we haven't replaced it. We will have roads deteriorating because that was paid for by federal stimulus money."
The three candidates agreed on one area that's off limits from budget cuts -- Veterans services.
All three also discussed a controversial mining project on Minnesota's Iron Range. Polymet Corporation is waiting for state approval for a copper-nickel mine in Hoyt Lakes. The state released an environmental review of the proposal earlier this year which was blasted by the federal government for being inadequate. The mine has been in the works for more than four years.
Both Emmer and Horner suggested the state has to speed up the permitting process. Emmer said Dayton wouldn't fix the system.
"If you want to solve these problems, you've got to create good paying jobs in northern Minnesota," Emmer said. "You don't do that by having a regulatory system that delays new opportunities in the richest mining discovery in the world. You don't do that by forcing them to go through hoop after hoop."
Dayton said he's working with his running mate to figure out ways to improve the permitting process but said Emmer should remember who is in charge of the state's agencies.
"It's actually your friend Gov. Pawlenty who has been running the state regulatory agencies over the past eight years," Dayton said. "So if you want to talk about delays and the failure of state agencies to be responsive, you have to look at your own party."
Horner argued that the state should have a permit approved within six months or detail to a business why it's taking longer.