Gov. Mark Dayton held a town hall meeting before a standing-room-only crowd of about 150 people in Duluth last night, to make the case for a budget plan that includes a tax hike on the wealthy and spending in education and other programs.
The governor was largely well-received at the meeting dubbed "Meetings with Mark," in DFL-dominated Duluth, but there were some critics in the crowd.
Dayton's plan would raise an estimated $1.1 billion in new revenue by hiking taxes on the wealthiest 2 percent of Minnesotans. He wants that money to help plug a $627 million projected state deficit.
"My feeling is, everybody ought to pay their fair share of taxes. If you make more, you pay more; if you make less, you pay less," Dayton said. "That's what keeps this society functional. Once we lose that ethic, I'm concerned."
He's also proposing to increase education funding by $640 million, which comes as welcome news to Bill Gronseth, the superintendent of Duluth Public Schools. Gronseth said the Duluth district is facing a $3.5 million deficit this year.
"Your budget proposal does help us a little bit on that. Doesn't get us all the way, but I like the long-range view of your budget with education," Gronseth said.
Some were less supportive of the tax plan, including one man who said, "we've already paid our fair share." Others backed the governor, one of them by saying, "people should recognize the opportunities they've had to be able to be in that 2 percent."
Dayton answered other questions and comments during the 90-minute session ranging from health care to environmental regulations to guns, which the governor called "a bogus issue."
"Nobody's going to confiscate your guns. Nobody. I give you my word," he said to a mixture of applause and mutterings.
Afterwards, Charlie Fedora of Duluth, a self-described independent who did not vote for Dayton in 2010, said he thought the governor performed well.
"He was responsive to the people who were here. He was cordial," Fedora said. "There were a couple of incidences where things were starting to get out of hand, and he put a squash to it, which I thought was good."
Dayton plans to host three additional budget conversations across the state -- in Moorhead, St. Cloud and Rochester -- in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, the Democrats who control the state Legislature have different ideas on how much revenue to raise and where to spend it.
With Minnesota House and Senate Democrats proposing $2 billion in new taxes to erase the budget deficit and to spend more on schools, economic development and other state services. One area -- health and human services -- is getting left out. In fact, DFLers propose a spending cut.