By Tom Larson
Gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton has a simple fix for the state's economic woes, and he says he's committed to it even if it strains his relationship with a potentially powerful bloc of Minnesotans, including members of his family.
Increase taxes on the richest Minnesotans until they are paying their fair share, he said.
"There's three ways to do it," Dayton said during a stop in Morris on Monday, "raise taxes on the rich, raise taxes on the rest, or cut $7 billion from state services and pretend no one notices or that no one's going to know the difference. That's not real world."
Dayton spend a good share of the day in Morris, touring renewable energy projects at the University of Minnesota, Morris and then meeting with a group of area residents at DeToy's Family Restaurant. He had another meeting scheduled Monday evening in Elbow Lake.
Dayton's on campaign mission of stopping in all of Minnesota's 87 counties in 87 days. The former U.S. Senator and state Auditor will be a candidate to succeed Gov. Tim Pawlenty in the August primary, and while he's running as a Democrat, he is not seeking DFL Party endorsement.
Much of what Dayton addressed Monday are the issues that are consuming the state: staggering budget deficits, both real and projected, cuts to local governments and schools, and a flagging jobs market.
While Pawlenty touts his pledge of not raising taxes in his eight years as governor, Minnesotans have seen their tax bills increase. Tying school funding on property taxes is an unstable mechanism that leads to a degradation of the services districts can provide.
Dayton had similar criticisms of the state's income tax system. The richest Minnesotans do not pay a fair share of tax on their incomes. While not advocating a flat tax, Dayton said that if such a tax were policy, the state would have an additional $4 billion coming in in the next biennium.
Dayton said revamping the system is vital because the policies of two Republican governors and Jesse Ventura -- "a wrestler turned Libertarian" -- have lulled Minnesotans into not being fully aware of how unfair it is.
"It's so unfair; it's so against the best interests of people," Dayton said. "(Because of the former governors), people aren't aware how steeply regressive our tax system has become."
Dayton, an heir to the former Dayton's clothing store fortune, admits he's had difficult discussions with other wealthy Minnesotans -- including those in his family -- about his proposals to raise taxes on the rich. When his relatives get mad, he said he asks them a question: "What is your fair share?"
"They don't have an answer, they just don't want to pay taxes," Dayton said. "The ethic in this country used to be that if you made more money, you paid more taxes. The ethic today is to make as much money as you can and not pay more taxes or pay nothing. What needs to change is the ethic."
Dayton spoke briefly with Morris Mayor Sheldon Giese and expressed his concern of maintaining a healthy Local Government Aid system. Local governments have lost millions of dollars in aid in the last two years because of state cuts, particularly through Pawlenty's unallotments.
Cities and counties are contemplating significant reductions in services Dayton told Giese that he opposes LGA cuts, and expressed a need to make the public more aware of what's at stake if more cuts come, or if aid to local governments is discontinued completely.
"I think they should call LGA police, fire and potholes," Dayton said, "so that people know how immediately it affects their lives."
Jobs will be vital to restoring the state's economy, Dayton said, offering up statistics that since Pawlenty took office, there are 200,000 more people living in Minnesota but that there are 33,000 fewer state residents working.
Dayton said his experience in state government as Auditor and commissioner of both economic development and energy departments give him the skills to resurrect the state's jobs market and to identify new opportunities.
"It's going to be a tough period of time, and the long-term answer is to create jobs," he said. "I'm committed to that. I'll go everywhere and anywhere to create jobs."
Dayton also countered some candidates' arguments that their inexperience in politics translates into fresh ideas and a new approach. Dayton said he has proven his commitment through 35 years of public service.
"There are times, especially in difficult times, when experience really pays off for people," he said, noting that many of his political heroes became leaders during trying times. "I think it matters more who can be a leader in tough times than in good times."