Q&A with the gubernatorial candidates

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October 25, 2010
By: Jake Weyer
Jake Weyer

Regardless of how things shake out at the polls, Minnesotans on Nov. 2 will elect a new governor for the first time since 2002, when Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty won his first of two terms.

The race for the state’s top job has been hotly contested and voters, who turned out for the Aug. 10 primary in numbers not seen in a decade, have indicated no clear winner on recent election polls.

Three candidates are vying to become the state’s next leader: Democratic former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, of Minneapolis; Republican state Rep. Tom Emmer, of Delano, and Independence Party candidate Tom Horner, of Edina.

Emmer and Dayton were in a virtual tie as of Oct. 6, with 38 percent and 40 percent of voters backing them respectively, according to a Rasmussen Reports statewide poll of 750 likely voters. Horner trailed significantly with 15 percent of voters supporting him.

Whoever is elected will face tremendous challenges — a $6 billion deficit, a dismal economy, high unemployment and ongoing achievement disparities in schools, to name a few. How the new governor tackles these broad issues can have a significant impact on local municipalities, many of which depend on state funding to balance their budgets. Minneapolis, which has seen its state aid slashed three years in a row, is among them.

The Journal asked each of the gubernatorial candidates five questions that highlight some of the challenges not only for Minnesota, but also for its largest city. Each candidate was given a maximum of 200 words to respond to each question. Here’s what they had to say.  


Journal: What is your plan for dealing with the roughly $6 billion budget deficit projected in Minnesota over the next biennium? What areas are you looking to cut, or where do you plan to build revenue?

Mark Dayton: I will balance the budget fairly. With a $6 billion deficit, we need to find savings first. I would cut programs that don’t work like the excessive testing of our schoolchildren and also reform the way state government works. For example, experts tell me that there are millions in savings if we reform the way the state procures products and services. I will also balance the budget by closing corporate tax loopholes and asking the richest 4 percent of Minnesotans pay more in taxes.

I believe we have already asked middle class
Minnesotans to do as much as they can. My two opponents want to balance the budget by increasing taxes on middle-income Minnesotans — either through expanding the sales tax or increasing property tax. I am the only candidate who will not increase taxes on the middle-class. In fact, my income tax increase affects only the top 4 percent of Minnesota taxpayers.



Tom Horner: My budget proposal calls for $2.45 billion in spending cuts, service redesign and government efficiency; and a proposal of $2.15 billion in new revenue through tax reform that places a priority on investing in job growth, tax equality and a tax system that works for the new economy.

Spending reductions will come from transitioning away from ineffective subsidies, including the JOBZ program, and creating more accountability in delivering public services. On the tax side, I propose reductions in taxes on job creation and new incentives for investment. My plan also increases revenue by decreasing Minnesota’s sales tax by 1 percentage point and expanding the sales tax to discretionary items that now are exempt.

These changes make Minnesota’s sales tax consistent with most other states. I’m recommending new investments in economic growth, education and health. These include funds for research at two- and four-year higher education institutions; new investments in early learning to prepare children for success as they enter kindergarten; funds for older adult services; investments in prevention to create a healthier Minnesota; and resources for supportive services for homeless people, especially families in crisis.



Tom Emmer: We are the only campaign to have presented a budget plan that actually balances and ensures that government lives within its means. Mark Dayton’s “budget” is $1 billion out of balance, and Tom Horner’s is more than $2 billion out of balance. Our budget focuses on improving Minnesota’s business climate through business tax cuts. Our spending plans are focused on getting Minnesota government to live within its means. Revenues are projected to grow by 7–8 percent; the deficit is caused by a 17 percent projected increase in expenditures. We will hold spending growth to the rate of revenue increase.

For the past three years in a row, the state has made mid-year reductions to Local Government Aid (LGA) for Minneapolis. How do you view the fiscal relationship between the city and state and what, if anything, would you do to improve it?  

State aid to local governments should focus on ensuring that basic services such as police and fire protection are provided to all citizens. The City of Minneapolis has ample funds to cover basic services and beyond, and has been using LGA to fund non-essential services. The city needs to be held accountable for balancing its budget.

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For the past three years in a row, the state has made mid-year reductions to Local Government Aid (LGA) for Minneapolis. How do you view the fiscal relationship between the city and state and what, if anything, would you do to improve it?

Mark Dayton: For the last eight years, Governor Pawlenty has promised no new taxes while cutting the state aid to cities, counties and schools. This has driven up property taxes in Minneapolis and almost everywhere else in Minnesota. The Department of Revenue says that for every dollar cut in Local Government Aid, property taxes increase by 67 cents.

To its enormous credit, Minneapolis has balanced its budget through long-range planning, budget cuts and reforms. In contrast, the state continues to lurch from budget crisis to budget crisis and local property tax payers have been asked to fill the gap.

Years ago the State of Minnesota created a financial partnership with local governments to ensure that our citizens everywhere could have safe communities and good schools. This partnership and the trust which underlies it have been broken by Gov. Pawlenty.

As your Governor, I will honor and fulfill the promises of State Aid to cities, counties and schools.



Tom Horner: A recent survey by the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities showed that 40 percent of member cities had cut from basic services including fire and police departments. Mayors and city council members, in most communities that have made cuts, have cut fire and police and other core services because they’ve been backed into a corner.  

We need to fully fund LGA, however we need to make changes to the formula that determines the aid. Over the last several years there have been significant cuts to LGA — real cuts, not just nominal cuts — and those cuts have had a direct result, with bad consequences. Beyond LGA, another way to get more money into the hands of cities is to allow them to pay no sales tax on items they purchase.  

LGA has to be reformed to work for large cities like Minneapolis, suburbs and small towns across the state. We cannot continue to pit one community against another.



Tom Emmer: State aid to local governments should focus on ensuring that basic services such as police and fire protection are provided to all citizens. The City of Minneapolis has ample funds to cover basic services and beyond, and has been using LGA to fund non-essential services. The city needs to be held accountable for balancing its budget.

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Unemployment rates in Minneapolis and elsewhere throughout the state are gradually dropping, but many Minnesotans are still without jobs. What would you do to grow jobs in the state?


Mark Dayton: Two-hundred thousand more people live in Minnesota today than when Governor Pawlenty took office; yet fewer people are working. Almost twice as many people are drawing unemployment now as during the previous high in July 2003.

That is why I believe state government, like the federal government, must do everything within its power to accelerate our economic recovery and help create jobs for Minnesotans. A bonding bill next January, taking advantage of low interest rates, would put an estimated 28,000 people to work in the construction industry. New transportation and transit projects will not only create jobs but also help people and products
move more efficiently throughout Minnesota.

An Energy Savings Loan Fund would put thousands more people to work renovating public buildings throughout Minnesota for better energy efficiencies and saving taxpayers millions of dollars through lower operating costs.

We need to help small businesses grow by cutting red tape and expanding access to credit. As Governor, my #1 Job is putting people back to work. I will go anywhere and do anything I possibly can to bring new jobs and new companies to Minnesota.



Tom Horner: Minnesota could have the jobs that are leading the way into the 21st century — not just science and technology jobs, but good-paying jobs in all the businesses that develop and grow in support of a world-class industry.

The next four years will bring new challenges to Minnesota’s economy — but unparalleled opportunities if we are prepared to make bold and smart decisions.  Government shouldn’t pick economic winners and losers. But government can and should create an environment for success by giving every Minnesota student the opportunity to succeed in post-high school education, including college and job training; eliminating unnecessary regulations; and creating smart tax and investment policies, assuring that Minnesota continues to attract the entrepreneurs that will build tomorrow’s global companies.



Tom Emmer: Growing jobs is what this campaign is about. Raising taxes, growing government, and increasing red tape are a recipe for disaster. Lowering business taxes, reducing red tape, and streamlining government will improve our business climate and invite job creators to start businesses, grow businesses, and relocate businesses to Minnesota. Minnesotans don’t want more unemployment checks — they want paychecks — and getting Minnesota’s private sector economy moving again is the only way to do that.

Minneapolis has made eco-friendly practices a priority on just about every level. The city recently partnered with St. Paul to grow and attract green-manufacturing businesses and jobs. What would you do to grow the green economy statewide?  




Mark Dayton: Growing clean energy jobs and expanding renewable energy is not only good for our environment, it is good for the economy.

We need a statewide strategy to grow green manufacturing jobs. I have proposed an Energy Savings Fund to retrofit every public building in the state for energy efficiency within a decade. This will create thousands of new jobs, reducing energy consumption and save taxpayers money.

We need to grow our use of clean energy like wind, solar, geothermal, hydropower and biofuels. We also need to provide incentives so that Minnesota companies are manufacturing the components for this clean energy future. Minneapolis and St. Paul have been regional leaders in this work, and as Governor I will work with you to get the job done.



Tom Horner: Start by funding applied research at the University of Minnesota and other higher education institutions as a separate line item in the state budget.

Minnesota must become the Knowledge State. Innovations and new technologies that come from the University add value to the entire state. The proposed bioscience corridor in southern Minnesota, the wind/energy research at the University of Minnesota-Morris, the solar research at Minnesota State University-Mankato, the agro-science research at the University of Minnesota-St. Paul are a few examples of Minnesota innovation on the verge of prominence.

Investment in Innovation by creating a state tax system that supports taking new ideas and processes to market by Minnesota companies. The corporate income tax is regressive and must be reduced and eliminated within four years.  My budget proposal includes the establishment of Minnesota Innovation funds to assist in startup costs and promote innovation statewide.



Tom Emmer: Minnesotans need more green jobs. They need more brown, red and blue jobs as well. The best way to improve both our economy and our environment is to get Minnesotans back to work and businesses back to investing. The more secure peoples’ economic future, the more environmentally aware people become. Green jobs aren’t a panacea; all jobs will be welcome in an Emmer administration.  

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Minnesota struggles with a significant gap in achievement between white students and students of color. What strategies at the state level would be most effective in narrowing the achievement gap in schools?   
 

Mark Dayton: This failure is unacceptable. It is both our moral responsibility and key to our future that we provide all our children with the educations they need to achieve their full potentials.

To close the achievement gap, we must start early in life and sustain our effort. Effective early childhood programs are crucial to enable every Minnesota child to arrive at kindergarten ready to learn. We should provide state funding for optional all-day kindergarten for all of our schoolchildren.

Every student should read at or above grade level by the end of each grade. Every 8th grader should be proficient in math. Every young person needs to graduate from high school ready for higher education.

Educators know what works to achieve those goals. They know that children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, achieve better results in smaller classes. They know that individual diagnostic testing, especially at the beginning of the school year, enables teachers to identify each student’s learning needs and differences. Individual or small group special help can overcome those learning difficulties, so students are proficient by the end of the year.



Tom Horner: Few investments are more important than education. About half of all Minnesota students — students from every community and from every background — are entering kindergarten unprepared to learn. Meanwhile, high school graduation rates among many of our fastest growing populations are dropping below 60 percent. At a time when our economy demands more college graduates, a falling high school graduation rate is an economic crisis that will affect everyone.

We can’t keep asking school districts to do more with less. But that doesn’t mean that education deserves a blank check. Minnesota deserves leadership that focuses on keys to successful education — a supportive family and community and teachers. We need to make investments in making sure that all parents have the tools to help their children succeed in school, then hold families and students accountable.  

We need to hold school districts accountable. Resources need to go first and foremost into the classroom. We need to work with the innovative programs that are adapting new ways of learning to today’s students. And, we need to invest in technology, not as a replacement for face-to-face interaction with classroom teachers, but as a complement.

Tom Emmer: The achievement gap is one of the greatest moral and economic problems facing Minnesota. For decades we have talked about it, but reform has only come in fits and starts.

We plan to increase opportunity for at-risk children through early education scholarships and empowering students to enroll in accredited pre-K programs. We will increase choice and competition through expanding charter schools. We will create urban education empowerment zones to give more flexibility for reform in urban areas. And we will increase standards and accountability for student performance.