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Pawlenty targeted in last gubernatorial debate
Minnesota gubernatorial candidates clashed Friday night over driver's license provisions, the state budget and transportation. It was the last scheduled broadcast debate between the four major-party candidates before Tuesday's election.

St. Paul, Minn. — The biggest fireworks of the Twin Cities Public Television debate came during a question on whether to track temporary visitors by including their visa expiration dates on their drivers' licenses.

Republican Tim Pawlenty is the only candidate who supports the provision. He raised the issue in a recent television ad that was immediately blasted by his three opponents. The ad notes that the alleged 20th hijacker, Zacarias Moussaoui, was arrested in Minnesota, and states "terrorists are here". Independence Party candidate Tim Penny says Pawlenty never raised the issue during debates, but only through a negative ad.

"It's clearly designed as a scare tactic, and that's the standard procedure these two political parties go through every year. Some last-minute issue, with a last minute ad, to frighten people to the polls," Penny said.

DFLer Roger Moe says the ad plays on the fears of Sept. 11, and he objected to the ad's statement that "terrorists are here."

Green Party candidate Ken Pentel called Moussaoui "an anomaly." Pawlenty says law enforcement supports the driver's license provision, and he told Pentel that the nation is at war.

"Zacarias Moussaoui is not an anomaly, Ken, he's an alleged terrorist. He's an alleged terrorist...I'm not going to sacrifice the public safety by putting our guard down because of these folks who want to be politically correct," Pawlenty said.

Pentel said the nation is not at war, because the U.S. has not been attacked by a foreign nation.

Pawlenty found himself at odds with his opponents on other issues as well. He is the only candidate who says he'll sign a bill creating a 24-hour waiting period before a woman could have an abortion. He supports relaxing the state's concealed weapons law to make it easier for people to qualify for a permit. He's also the only one who has pledged not to raise taxes to balance the budget.

Moe says Pawlenty made a promise he can't keep. "The tragedy is that it means property tax increases if, in fact, that's what's going to happen. Because it's going to shift the burden of schools even more back onto the property taxes, social services back on property taxes, I think that's unfortunate."

The candidates were challenged to name specific cuts they would make to resolve a budget deficit that could top $3 billion. Pawlenty says he would shift some social services to the nonprofit sector, and use some of the state's tobacco endowment money.

Penny suggested merging the state departments of administration, finance and revenue and eliminating some functions at the state planning agency. Pentel says he's been more specific than any of his opponents. He says he would balance the budget by increasing taxes on upper income Minnesotans.

"If we just increased - moving towards the 1977 tax rates. If we go from where we are now, at about 8% in the top 10 percent income earners, where they're being taxed now, to 14 percent, that's $3 billion right there," he said.

The candidates also sparred over transportation. Pawlenty wants to borrow for $2 billion in road projects, while Moe is proposing a $5 billion plan that includes a six-cent hike in the gas tax.

Moe, the longtime Senate majority leader, says Pawlenty's plan leaves a hole in the state budget, while Pawlenty, the House majority leader, questioned Moe's effectiveness in addressing the transportation crunch.

"We've had this backlog building for 20 years. You've been the unquestioned leader of the Minnesota Senate for at least that long, you've been in the Legislature for 32 years, and the notion that six months before the election, you're going to declare a transportation crisis is really disingenous," Pawlenty said.

"And you know full well, Tim, the Senate has had a transportation package resting on the front desk..." Moe said.

"Did you get it done?" asked Pawlenty.

On the issue of education funding, Moe said the state has failed to adequately fund schools. Penny says reducing state mandates will save school districts some money, and many districts are going to voters for funding.

"I intend to support the referendum in my home school district in Waseca, because they've come to us and documented exactly how they will use that money, and convinced, I think, they're convincing people in our town that those needs are important in our school and that we are then willing to put our support behind it," Penny said.

Pawlenty stressed making schools more accountable, and said he supports performance pay for teachers. The Green Party's Pentel says he would help schools with their financial crunch by lowering energy costs and creating a single-payer health care system in Minnesota, which would lower districts' health insurance costs.

The candidates did agree on a couple of issues - none wants to make wearing a seat belt a primary offense, and none wants to make all fireworks - not just sparklers - legal in the state.

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