When they’re pressed: Governor candidates would treat greater Minnesota same as Twin Cities, but different
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota's two major governor candidates tend to shy away from saying they would treat greater Minnesota differently than the Twin Cities, but when Gov. Mark Dayton and Jeff Johnson are pressed, differences emerge.
ST. PAUL - Minnesota’s two major governor candidates tend to shy away from saying they would treat greater Minnesota differently than the Twin Cities, but when Gov. Mark Dayton and Jeff Johnson are pressed, differences emerge.
In Forum News Service interviews conducted as the candidates drove around rural Minnesota in September, they emphasized that things they could do to help the entire state also help rural Minnesota and regional centers.
“We restored fiscal stability to the state,” Dayton said, emphasizing that he inherited a $6.2 billion state deficit, with the state owing schools more than $2 billion. The debt and schools have been paid off and the state has a bit of a surplus.
“We made taxes less regressive in Minnesota by raising taxes on the top 2 percent (of earners) and used that money to invest in education and avoid further cuts,” the Democratic incumbent said. “If we had had a clean slate (when his term began) ... we would not have needed to raise anybody’s taxes.”
Now, he said, he sees no need to raise any taxes, any time soon.
Johnson said his philosophy of lower taxes and finding ways to help businesses - such as speeding up issuance of state permits and reducing regulations - would help all parts of the state.
However, the Republican said, “every area of the state has different needs. ... We should not ignore those needs.”
He accused the Dayton administration of a “metro-centric attitude” since Dayton and his running mate, Tina Smith, are urban Twin Cities residents. Johnson grew up in Detroit Lakes and his running mate, Bill Kuisle, is a Rochester-area farmer.
One of the most striking differences between Johnson and Dayton is how they would treat Local Government Aid (state money that goes to cities) and funds sent to other local governments.
Johnson said LGA should return to its roots: helping fund fundamental needs such as public safety in communities with insufficient property to tax, the main way they have to raise revenue. “I don’t happen to think Minneapolis needs LGA.”
If Johnson could eliminate Minneapolis and St. Paul payments, that mostly would leave greater Minnesota communities getting the checks because most suburbs get little or no LGA. “Most communities that have needs are in greater Minnesota.”
In the first governor race debate, in Rochester, Dayton said he made LGA a priority because it is essential to provide fundamental services. He always has supported Minneapolis and St. Paul getting the aid.
Republicans generally get little voter support from urban areas such as Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth, which are Democratic strongholds and the biggest LGA recipients.
Dayton talks a lot about what he has done to improve education funding and what remains to be done. He said that he will stick to his promise made during the 2010 campaign to increase education funding every year.
He points to tuition freezes at the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities systems, which the schools say can continue if they get additional funding. But Dayton also said he works on making sure Minnesota businesses get trained workers they need.
At the Arctic Cat plant in Thief River Falls, for instance, “they need people with mechanical engineering,” Dayton said. “The courses they teach across the street are for architectural engineering.” He said he works with leaders of the two higher education systems to make sure the right training is provided in the right places.
“My job is to paint with a broad brush statewide, recognizing things will be different depending on the needs,” he said, and it is state workers who take laws and adapt them to specific needs.
Dayton said that Minnesota businesses have received extra help when needed under his administration and does not plan to ask for specific program such as then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty did when lawmakers passed the Job Opportunity Building Zones that targeted some rural areas.
Johnson could see some of those programs being needed.
“In my perfect world, we have a strong enough economy that we don’t have to provide those types of services...” he said. “However, we are quite a ways from that perfect world so in the short term I can see some of those incentive programs directed toward areas in most need of economic development.”
Like many of Johnson’s proposals, he said those programs likely would not happen until the second two-year budget he proposes, in 2017. He said that there will be too little time when he writes his first budget next spring to include many of the changes he would like. Besides, he added, for at least for two years, Democrats will be in charge of the Senate and he would need to work out compromises.
“I have got to figure out what parts of my agenda enough Democrats can agree with that I can get it passed,” Johnson said.