Candidates criticize budget plans at 11th gubernatorial debate

Emmer, Horner, Dayton
The three candidates for governor (left to right) Republican Tom Emmer, Independence Party candidate Tom Horner, and Democrat Mark Dayton debate in Minneapolis on Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2010.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

The three major candidates in Minnesota's wide-open race for governor are dialing up the criticism of each others' plans for tackling a looming state budget crisis.

Spending cuts, income tax increases and sales tax expansion were again the main points of contention in a gubernatorial debate held Wednesday night in downtown Minneapolis.

A day after releasing a budget proposal aimed at significantly slowing the growth of state government spending, Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer said that his was the only balanced budget plan from any candidate.

In the debate at the Pantages Theater in Minneapolis, Emmer repeated his assertion that next year's projected $5.8 billion budget deficit is simply a matter of unchecked government spending. He claimed his opponents --Tom Horner from the Independence Party and Democrat Mark Dayton -- would also have to cut spending if elected governor.

"Your plan, senator, is not complete. It's about $3 billion short by your own admission," Emmer said. "You've said you're going to hold K-12 harmless. You're going to add all this money to health and human services. What are you going to cut? Tell the citizens of Minnesota. Is it public safety? Is it the courts? Is it LGA? Mr. Horner, you do the same thing. Yours is two to two-and-a-half billion short. "

DFLer Mark Dayton criticized Emmer more specifically for proposing deep cuts in higher education and state aid to local governments. Dayton said another hit to cities and counties will mean higher local property taxes.

"The Minnesota Department of Revenue, which we've agreed is the authority, says for every dollar cut in Local Government Aids, 67 cents goes to higher property taxes," Dayton said. "So your proposal is going to result just as Gov. Pawlenty's did. You say no new taxes, but we all know after Gov. Pawlenty -- and you're not doing anything new -- you're just taking his proposals to a further extreme."

Dayton also took aim at Tom Horner for proposing to lower the sales tax rate while extending it to clothing and other transactions currently not taxed. Horner argued that his tax proposal is actually supported by many tax experts and key legislators, and he claimed they don't support Dayton's plan to raise the income tax on top earners.

"I would defy you senator, name 10 senators, name eight legislators who are going to support you. I'll spot you John Marty," Horner said.

The debate also came a day after Dayton acknowledged that his proposed income tax increase wouldn't raise as much money as he thought. The DFL candidate said he plans to go back to the Department of Revenue soon to test a new tax scenario. Dayton also insisted that he could work with the Legislature to find new revenue.

"They have the same constitutional obligation as the next governor to balance the budget by the end of the session next May," he said. "So, if I'm governor, if they don't like my proposals, they're welcome to submit their own."

All three candidates repeated their pledge to work for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium. They also dismissed a suggestion that the polls show none of their campaigns have really caught fire. Emmer was the only candidate to support making English the state's official language, and he again defended his early campaign comment that Arizona's tough immigration law was a good first step.

"There's a much bigger issue, and when you take sound bites like that you can interpret them anyway you want," Emmer said. "What we should be talking about is how we make sure that people come to this country in a legal fashion and become contributing member of communities, because that's ultimately what we all want."

IP candidate Horner claimed his lack of experience in elected office is an advantage over his opponents. He followed an especially sharp exchange between Emmer and Dayton to stress his centrist political views and willingness to find common ground.

"Does anybody listening to this argument, to this debate, believe that Republicans would allow a Gov. Dayton to succeed or Democrats would allow a Gov. Emmer to succeed?" Horner said. "Does anybody believe that four years of stagnation of gridlock is in the best interest of Minnesota?"

This was the 11th gubernatorial debate since last month's primary election. The next one is scheduled Friday night on Twin Cities Public Television.

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