In the second debate of the 2014 governor’s race, Mark Dayton made news with his very first question, suggesting for the first time that he would seek an increase in the gasoline sales tax to fund transportation.
“I would make a specific proposal, including a sales tax on gasoline that will raise close to the $6.5 billion that we’re short in transportation funding over the next ten years,” Dayton said Wednesday night in Moorhead.
Neither GOP candidate Jeff Johnson nor Independence Party candidate Hannah Nicollet supported that idea, and it gave Johnson the chance to try out a testier tone that he used often in the 90-minute debate.
“We had the biggest tax increase in state history and we’re saying we don’t have enough money to fill potholes,” Johnson said. “That’s nuts. To suggest that we gotta raise taxes again is wrong.”
Dayton spent much of the debate touting his administration’s record on transportation funding, as well as education, job creation and support for greater Minnesota. He had to. In responses to several questions, he was tag-teamed by Johnson and Nicollet, as in this exchange on how to keep college graduates in Minnesota:
Nicollet: “What we have in Minnesota is an opportunity problem. We have 49 percent of our individuals who are underemployed, making less than they expected and over-qualified for the positions that they have.”
Dayton: “We have economic growth occurring all over the state. I got to respond to these fictions about half the people in Minnesota are underemployed. It’s nonsense.”
Johnson: “The number you say is false comes from your administration. The number is accurate. To say it’s no big deal, I think it’s out of touch.”
Johnson used another theme — responsibility, or lack thereof — in responding to a question on the financing of the new Vikings stadium. He called it “a debacle” and said Dayton didn’t fully know what was in the bill he signed. “Minnesotans deserve a governor who owns his decisions and is engaged,” he said.
Dayton fired back. “Tell the 7,500 people who are working on this project … that this project is a debacle,” he said.
The debate, sponsored by the Forum News Service, had a focus on regional issues like flood control (all three agreed the state needed to work on a solution with North Dakota) and a proposed oil pipeline. Dayton said environmental concerns need to be a priority for the project; Johnson and Nicollet say they support it.
But while the candidates — especially Dayton and Johnson — used the time to highlight their differences and critique opposing positions and policies, the overall tone once again remained cordial. The next debate is October 14 in Duluth.