The state's three candidates for governor debated jobs, the economy and education issues on Tuesday before the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, stressing their executive credentials to an audience that cares about business.
Republican Tom Emmer told chamber members that he would work to make taxes low and reduce permitting hurdles. He pointed to Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, a fellow Republican, as an example of a governor who bolstered job creation by lowering taxes and eliminating regulations.
"He has gotten control of the runaway spending train that was the state of Indiana's government," Emmer said of Daniels. "He has created stability and predictability. So guess what? More venture capital then ever is being invested into the state of Indiana, and the state of Indiana is responsible for 7 percent of all of the new jobs in the country."
Emmer has said he'll balance the state's budget without raising taxes -- and even promised tax cuts, despite the state's projected $5.8 billion deficit.
Dayton criticized Emmer for not saying specifically which programs he would cut to balance the budget. Dayton, who is proposing to increase income taxes on Minnesota's top earners, said cutting taxes isn't the answer.
Dayton said Minnesota hasn't seen an increase in job creation in the last decade, even though income taxes were cut in the late 1990s, and no state taxes were increased under Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
"So you would have expected the opposite: If we cut taxes as we have, that we would have received a benefit from doing so. In fact, the opposite is true," Dayton said. "Meanwhile we've sacrificed the quality of our education and the condition of our infrastructure, our highways. So we have to achieve a balance between business taxation and the individual taxation."
Independence Party candidate Tom Horner said both Emmer and Dayton are failing to achieve the balance. Horner wants to cut business taxes and lower the state's sales tax rate. But he also wants to expand the sales tax to clothing, tobacco and services like haircuts. He criticized Emmer and Dayton for being too strident with their proposals.
"We need tax reform that incents entrepreneurs, incents our great corporations to grow jobs here," Horner said. "Give them the resources to grow jobs here."
All three candidates expressed strong interest in improving how students learn, but differ on the approach. Horner said the state should invest more money in schools while changing the current school model.
He wants state taxpayer money for early childhood development and improved coordination on education between early childhood, primary and secondary schools and the state's colleges and universities.
"We need to start with the question -- not, 'How much?' but, 'What for? What are the outcomes that we want to achieve? What are we trying to accomplish?'" said Horner. "We need students coming out of 12th grade who are prepared for success. We need more people in Minnesota with degrees, two and four-year."
Dayton said he thinks the state is lagging in education funding. He said crowded classrooms and four-day school weeks will diminish quality of the state's workforce.
"The employees that you want to hire are not going to come out of our educational system with the skills and abilities they need to be competitive in this global economy," Dayton said. "We have to increase our investment in education. It's half the state budget. And that's the other side of the coin from this tax question. How are we going to make those investments?"
Emmer, who has said he'll make K-12 spending a priority in his budget, said he'd like to see a wide range of changes to teacher licensing. He would also give students incentives to graduate early and pay teachers based on the performance in the classroom.
"If dollars were the answer, then we would not have a 60 percent dropout rate in the Minneapolis schools," said Emmer. "Those kids would be succeeding in closing the achievement gap, and it's not happening."
All three candidates also say they will work to reduce the time it takes for a business to receive approval for permitting -- another key priority for business.
The Chamber of Commerce has not yet endorsed a candidate for governor, but its president runs a political action committee that's backing Emmer. The chamber also contributed staff time to the PAC, MN Forward.