In St. Cloud debate, opponents take shots at Dayton's new budget plan

Duluth debate
Independence Party candidate Tom Horner, left, Republican Tom Emmer, center, and DFL candidate Mark Dayton debate in a file photo.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

DFL gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton has taken a second swing at erasing a projected $5.8 billion state budget deficit, but his new proposal is still about $1 billion short of a complete fix.

Dayton's new plan, and the budget plans proposed by his major party opponents, got most of the attention on Tuesday in St. Cloud during the latest in a long series of candidate debates.

The new budget proposal comes a week after Dayton acknowledged his proposal to raise income taxes on top earners wouldn't result in as much revenue as he thought.

The new plan would raise $3.6 billion in new revenue through tax increases and a proposed state-run casino. He's also proposing $1.2 billion in spending cuts. During the debate Dayton had to defend one of those proposed cuts, his plan to eliminate the state trade office, as well as his continued push for a top income tax rate of 10.95 percent for individuals with taxable income above $130,000 and couples above $150,000.

Middle-income taxpayers would like for the state's richest people pay their "fair share" in taxes, rather than pay higher property taxes as they would under Republican candidate Tom Emmer's proposal, or higher sales taxes under Independence Party candidate Tom Horner's proposal, Dayton said.

"I think the choice is clear," he said.

Dayton's second budget plan also includes a tax on credit card companies charging interest rates above 15 percent, and a pay cut for MnSCU employees who make more than the governor.

Emmer claimed his plan, which balances the books through spending reductions, is the only balanced proposal and most detailed proposal being offered. Emmer described Dayton's budget plan as the wrong idea at the wrong time.

"The idea that you've got, not only do the numbers not add up, but it will drive business from the state," Emmer said.

Horner issued a similar warning about the impact of tax increases on business. Horner, the former owner of a public relations firm, is proposing to eliminate the corporate income tax and expand the sales tax. He said Minnesota must be able to compete with other states when it comes to taxes.

"We cannot have the highest income tax rate in the country and be competitive," Horner said. "We do need to be a state that is cognizant of our role, not just in the country, but the world. And we do need a competitive tax rate."

All three candidates endeared themselves to the local audience by pledging to support bonding money in 2011 for an expansion of the St. Cloud Civic Center. Emmer was the only one who hedged on a similar support for a science building at St. Cloud State University.

Dayton, Emmer and Horner will face off again in a televised debate on Thursday sponsored by the Minneapolis Foundation.