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In the second of three debates, governor candidates offer varying building plans

Tom Horner, right, speaks to an audience of some 350 people attending the second of three Minnesota governor candidate debates this week. Also pictured are Tom Emmer, center, and Mark Dayton. Tribune photo by Don Davis

BROOKLYN PARK -- Mark Dayton could see Minnesota borrowing $1 billion to build and repair facilities, Tom Horner sees something closer to $400 million and Tom Emmer would give cities more options to fund their own projects.

In a governor campaign that centers on the state budget, the three main candidates on Wednesday looked at a part of state spending: infrastructure such as roads and buildings.

A debate hosted by more than 25 organizations interested in Minnesota infrastructure and commercial development produced no surprises, but the week's second of three debates emphasized further differences among the three.

Perhaps the biggest difference, other than overall budget disputes, was about how they would pay for public works projects, those state and local construction efforts funded by the state selling bonds.

Dayton, the DFL'er, thought a $1 billion bonding bill could be feasible. However, he said that he would wait until he saw the economic conditions before making a promise.

The big bonding bill for the next two-year budget is scheduled for 2012, but Dayton said he would not wait that long.

Besides roads, bridges and facilities such as colleges, Dayton said an emphasis needs to be on repairing sewer and water systems around Minnesota.

Horner, running under the Independence Party banner, already released a plan to borrow $400 million for things such as local bridges, major county roads, high-speed Internet and making state and local government buildings more energy efficient.

Emmer, the Republican candidate, did not give a specific amount he would borrow, but after voting against six straight bonding bills he clarified what he supports, saying that transportation needs and natural disaster prevention items such as flood walls would be his priorities.

The GOP hopeful said this year's $1 billion bonding bill contained $300 million to $400 million of projects that he thought were worthy of state funds.

After the debate, Emmer said that he supports giving cities an ability to raise their own taxes, after cutting state aid paid to them, so they could better build facilities such as civic centers with no state involvement.

Emmer surprised some in the audience when he supported transit programs, although he said they have to make economic sense. He said he is the only one of the three candidates who regularly rides a bus.

The trio agreed on the need to reduce state regulation.

"If I could wave a magic wand, I would eliminate duplication and triplication" of state forms, Dayton said. He called what he considered burdensome state regulations "the death of common sense."

Dayton running mate Yvonne Prettner Solon is looking into ways to streamline government, and Dayton said if elected he would expect the Legislature to look into his proposals early next year.

A Vikings football stadium is needed, the three said, but beyond that about all they agreed on was that they are glad Brett Favre is back on the team.

Horner, the only candidate to produce a stadium plan, suggested that team owners pay 40 percent of the cost, more than is typical for National Football League facilities. He also would give the state profits from events other than Vikings games.

Emmer supported a bill earlier this year that would require team owners to make loan payments the first few years after a stadium is built, but later a tax now collected to repay Minneapolis Convention Center construction loans would be diverted to the stadium.

Dayton said that if any stadium proposal produced more public economic benefits than it costs, the state should be involved.

Dayton, a former state economic development commissioner, complained that GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty's appointees came into "office with the ideology that government does everything badly," but he feels that government has a role to play in infrastructure development. His comment was aimed at Emmer, who on Wednesday said his vision of government is that of a smaller operation.

The difference was pointed out when Emmer praised Paul Bunyan Telephone in Bemidji, which he said has "extended broadband all the way to the hinterlands of northeastern Minnesota."

Dayton, on the other hand, said government needs to help with that work to expand high-speed Internet.

"We want to make it possible to live anywhere they want in the state," Dayton said, and they need broadband connection to do that.

Horner said that when private companies do not provide such service to rural areas, "that is the kind of (state) investment we need to make."

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.