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Norm Coleman: Taxes
By Martin Kaste
August 4, 1998
Click for audio RealAudio 2.0 14.4
Part of Election '98

IN NORM COLEMAN'S VIEW, Minnesotans are saddled with an unreasonable burden of taxation:

Coleman: You wake up in the morning and have a cup of coffee, you pay a sales tax. You turn on the light, you pay a utility tax. You drive to work, you go to work, you pay an income tax, you pay a gas tax. You turn on the TV, you pay a cable tax. You get sick, you pay a provider tax. You die, you pay a death tax. We are taxed across the board, we are one of the highest taxed states in the nation, and that has to change.
Coleman sees himself as the man to make the change. And yet he is the one candidate who is not making specific tax-cut promises. DFLers Mike Freeman and Mark Dayton say they'll lower property taxes, Doug Johnson wants lower income taxes, and Ted Mondale is promising to knock half a percentage off the sales tax. But Norm Coleman refuses to make that kind of promise. Instead, he says he's making what he considers a more important pledge:
Coleman: I am going to go in there and say, "I am going to commit to lowering taxes in Minnesota, I am going to commit to holding the line on spending."
Coleman says that's the real key to bringing down taxes over the long haul. He says his DFL rivals are promising tax cuts and new government spending, something he says will ultimately cost more money.

Coleman's detractors say he hasn't practiced what he preaches. Spending by St. Paul has gone up during his time in the mayor's office - roughly $20 million a year. During the same period, city spending in Minneapolis went down. St. Paul's tax rates have not gone up since Coleman's election, but many believe they will eventually, to pay for a series of expensive new economic development projects.

One of the ways Mayor Coleman has kept taxes down is by taking a hard line with public employees - slowing increases in their pay and benefits. It's a point of pride for Coleman, but it's also won him enemies in organized labor. Wayne Cox, the executive director of the Citizens for Tax Justice - which has links to the AFL-CIO - says Coleman is spending tax dollars on the wrong priorities
Wayne Cox: He believes taxpayers should subsidize businesses to assist in their growth, instead of having them pay for their own growth. If he is governor, I'm very worried that he's going to continue that kind of spending, and he's going to end up having the taxpayers pay for those spending.
Conservative taxpayer groups also have questions about Coleman's spending of public money on private enterprises. His campaign to fund a new NHL hockey arena with city and state dollars bothers even die-hard Republicans like Darrell McKigney, the president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota. But McKigney says he still trusts Coleman more on the issue of taxes:
McKigney: We disagree with Mayor Coleman on some of the funding for things like professional sports. On the other hand, some of other candidates have been very aggressive in promoting new spending, even in this campaign. So I think Mayor Coleman will promote less overall increases in spending and actually cut spending. And I hear him at least talking that way, instead of promising more spending for a lot of new groups.
No matter how you interpret Coleman's record as mayor, he has been a fiscal conservative on the campaign trail. Of all the candidates for governor, he's promised the least new spending. In fact, so far he's promised virtually no new state programs or state spending. If he can keep that up through November, his claim to be the candidate most likely to cut taxes will be that much more credible.