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Gubernatorial candidates hold first debate
By Michael Khoo
Minnesota Public Radio
March 1, 2002
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Four of the leading candidates in this year's governor's race are beginning to stake out their differences. During a debate before the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Thursday, DFLers Roger Moe and Becky Lourey made the case for additional taxes to patch the state's anticipated budget deficits. Republicans Tim Pawlenty and Brian Sullivan steered clear of raising state revenues, but nonetheless called for spending in key areas, including transportation.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce held a forum for candidates for governor on Feb. 28, 2002. Listen online.

With budget wrangling continuing at the Capitol, the four candidates were eager to explain their plans for repairing anticipated long-term deficits. A recent budget forecast predicts revenue shortfalls could reach $3.2 billion during the 2004 and 2005 budget cycle. DFL Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe says bridging that gap will require some belt-tightening and some sacrifice.

"It's going to be very difficult because we are not going to go after education," Moe said. "We know that we're not going to cut nursing homes. And so the bottom line is this: In order for us to replenish the budget reserve and to deal with the structural problem of '04 and '05, we're going to have to raise taxes."

State Sen. Becky Lourey, another Democrat, concurred. But House Majority Leader and Republican candidate Tim Pawlenty disagreed. So did Republican businessman Brian Sullivan. Sullivan says he'll make sure the growth in government spending is below the growth in household incomes.

"As a state, I think we're long overdue in putting a stake in the ground and saying that it's the family's budget that will come first. In this next decade, in my administration, we will have the family as the most important special interest of the decade," Sullivan said.

DFL State Auditor Judi Dutcher and Republican businessman Mike Vekich have also declared their candidacies, but both were unable to attend the debate.

As the debate moved to other issues, the DFL-GOP divide persisted. Both Moe and Lourey called for maintaining a strong state investment in education, particularly early childhood programs.

Lourey says that, in addition, attending to needs outside the classroom can create efficiencies down the line.

"We can also make sure we have strong neighborhoods with kids not homeless but living in their own homes, with their own pillows and their own breakfast bowl, and coming to school prepared to learn. And that decreases pressure in schools," she said.

Sullivan and Pawlenty said they support education funding, and Pawlenty, in particular, has called for no additional education cuts in the next phase of budget-balancing.

The two Republicans also called for a repeal of the Profile of Learning graduation standards, which they say takes the classroom focus off of traditional studies.

All four candidates called for new transportation spending, although they differ in how they'd pay for it. Moe is supporting a 7-cents-a-gallon hike in the gas tax and an increase in license tab fees to pay for new roads, bridges, and public transit. Pawlenty has called for a dedication of future income from the state's tobacco lawsuit settlement to highway infrastructure. He says failure to act now could choke business growth in the state.

"So this is a huge, not only quality of life issue as it takes time away from your family and your job, but it's becoming a huge economic development issue as well," according to Pawlenty.

Gov. Jesse Ventura hasn't said whether he'll seek re-election this year. But he told the same group earlier in the day he'll decide the issue once the legislative session wraps up.

Also running for governor are frequent candidate Ole Savior - a DFLer - and Green Party candidates Ken Pentel, Richard Klatte, and Nick Raliegh.

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