On a recent campaign trip to Rochester, gubernatorial hopeful Scott Honour paid a visit to the Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, a drug addiction recovery program. It wasn't long into the tour before Honor began touting his business background.
"So, I've started a couple companies," Honour said. "Then I built a firm that bought and fixed companies."
A businessman and first-time political candidate, Honour wants to approach state government with the same strategy he used in the private sector to turn around failing companies. He believes there are too many state workers, and wants to cut the state budget by 10 percent, in part by laying off employees.
"The five million citizens of this state are being harmed by the fact that the state has too many employees, and the state employees in aggregate are overcompensated," Honour said. "It's in administrative expense in particular. Having someone sitting in some function that's moving paper around is not helping this state."
He also proposes lowering and simplifying state taxes through a top-to-bottom restructuring.
The other GOP candidates who aim to unseat Gov. Mark Dayton also want spending cuts. But heading toward next month's primary, the candidates are highlighting their different approaches.
Former state Rep. Marty Seifert wants a 7 percent reduction in state spending. But he said he would reduce the state workforce through attrition. His proposal for what he calls "right-sizing government" includes merging some state agencies and cutting welfare spending.
On taxes, Seifert said he wants Minnesota out of the top 10 in all categories to help stimulate business growth, but he cautioned that tax changes would have to come gradually.
"I'd love to promise people on day one we're going to do this and this on lowering taxes," Seifert said. "None of these things happen overnight. But over a four-year gubernatorial term, can we make a glide path for making Minnesota competitive and a place for — a destination point and an origination point for inventors and thinkers and those who want to keep their businesses here."
Former House Speaker Kurt Zellers pledges to veto any tax increase if he is elected governor. He recently emphasized the point by signing the anti-tax pledge pushed by the advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform. Zellers said he also wants to lower all of the state income tax rates.
"You're still going to have a proportion on the top end that are going to pay a higher amount. They always have," Zellers said "But it's going to be compressed, so that all those folks have an opportunity to have a little bit more of their hard earned tax dollars in their pockets to invest, not going to the government."
Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, the Republican-endorsed candidate, said he too wants lower income tax rates to help the economy grow. He said he's also open to expanding the state sales tax, although not on business-to-business transactions. Johnson said a broadening of the sales tax would have to include a lowering of the rate to keep the adjustments revenue neutral.
"I know that's really politically dicey and some people will get mad at me for that. But you can talk to almost any economist, whether they're conservative, liberal or anything in between, and they will tell you that the best tax policy to spur the economy and grow the economy is one that is low, broad and simple," he said. "So, I think we at least have to be willing to look at that, and I would be as part of a bigger package."
Johnson said his plan for state spending will focus on making programs more effective, rather than promising across-the-board cuts. He said he would begin by measuring the outcomes of human services, which is one of the biggest and fastest-growing areas of the state budget.