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Mark Dayton and Tom Horner stepping up criticism of Tom Emmer for vague statements on budget fix

The Emmer campaign has repeatedly said it will offer its specific proposals soon, probably sometime next month.

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Both DFL gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton and Independence Party candidate Tom Horner are taking more and more shots at Republican Tom Emmer for his refusal, so far, to offer specifics as to what programs he will cut while attacking the state’s $6 billion deficit.

The Emmer campaign has repeatedly said it will offer its specific proposals soon, probably sometime next month.

But in three debates before business-friendly crowds this week, Emmer has been hinting as to the sorts of things he will propose:

• Dramatically reduce the amount the state pays for medical care to the state’s poorest. At a debate Tuesday — and again this morning at a debate sponsored by the TwinWest Chamber of Commerce — Emmer hinted that rather than pay hospitals and clinics for treatment of the poor, he would give hospitals and clinics tax breaks for doing what he described as “charitable work they already want to do.”

• At the Tuesday debate at the University of St. Thomas business school in downtown Minneapolis, he hinted that an Emmer administration would propose a large consolidation of state agencies. Rather than 22 commissioners reporting to the governor, Emmer said, he would surround himself with six advisers.

• At a debate Wednesday in Brooklyn Park and again this morning, Emmer lashed out at the wages and benefits paid to state employees.

“They are good people,” he said, “but …”

Emmer claims that state employees are paid “30 to 40 percent more” than people with similar jobs in the private sector. He added that they are the recipients of “gold-plated health care” plans and receive pensions, unlike most in the private sector.

Emmer did not say where his wage statistics came from.

But Minnesota’s American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which was the first major player to endorse Dayton, points to two studies that offer a hugely different perspective on pay for public employees.

Studies by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence and the National Institute on Retirement show that public employees nationally make 11 percent less than their counterparts in the private sector. According to Jennifer Mundt, public affairs director, Minnesota state employees are paid about the median level of public employees nationally.

Mundt also said that the average AFSCME worker is paid $38,000. Using that 11 percent figure, it means that the typical AFSCME member could make $4,180 more in the private sector.

“We have traded higher pay for better benefits,” Mundt said.

Emmer was attacking those benefits, especially pensions.

Dayton, on the other hand, defended the contracts of workers that call for them to receive such things as pensions, noting that those benefits had come only after negotiations with their respective employers.

“To denigrate people because they want retirement security doesn’t make sense to me,” Dayton said.

This was the third successive day in which Emmer and Horner were playing before largely friendly crowds — the third successive day in which the people in the audience were mostly white men in business attire.

After the forum, Dayton was asked if he’d ever get a chance to debate on his home turf.

He shrugged and said, “We had a debate on the environment and Emmer didn’t show up; we had a debate sponsored by social workers, and he didn’t show up.”

Then, like Emmer and Horner, he headed to the State Fair.

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.