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Dayton defends his budget plan, ready for a post-session re-election run

The governor urged detractors to propose better alternatives and accused Republicans of inaccurately portraying his budget ideas.

“When people have to start misrepresenting [my proposals] or misrepresenting their own, I’d say it’s problematic, but it also, to me, is an affirmative that the track I’m proposing is better than the alternatives.”
MinnPost photo by James Nord

Gov. Mark Dayton says his re-election campaign will likely have to remain on hold until after the legislative session ends in May.

Year-end campaign finance reports released on Friday show Dayton’s campaign had $96,000 on hand on Dec. 31 and raised a total of $271,000 in 2012. The governor said he hasn’t thought much about the logistics of his 2014 election contest but vowed to put up a hard fight.

“Frankly, I don’t have the time, so I don’t think I’ll have the ability to do much until after the legislative session, but after that, yes, it’s going to have to be a priority because I intend to run again,” he said Friday morning. “I know there’ll be a ton of money spent against me to distort and misrepresent my program and my accomplishments … I have no illusion that they’re not going to blanket the state with that, so I’ll be ready.”

“Obviously, I’d like to have more,” Dayton said of his bank balance.

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Dayton’s “program,” which he released late last month, is an ambitious $37.9 billion budget that includes more than $3.5 billion in tax increases and $1.4 billion in property tax rebates.

The budget pumps an extra $340 million into education, raises $240 million in support for higher education and provides local governments with an additional $120 million in aid. That’s on top of filling in a $1.1 billion deficit.

Dayton’s revenue plan would lower the sales tax rate but broaden what’s taxed to include items of clothing that cost more than $100 and many currently exempt services. It would also impose a higher income tax on the wealthiest Minnesotans and raise taxes on cigarettes.

Dayton understands DFL caution

Legislative committees have has just begun dissecting Dayton’s plan, and the Democratic majorities have not yet answered with budget proposals of their own. DFL leaders have said they applaud the “values” in the proposal, but overall support has come off as lukewarm.

“They don’t have to face up to that yet, and politicians tend not to face up to things till they absolutely have to,” Dayton said of his DFL colleagues. “They will absolutely have to in a couple months when they have to come up with a balanced budget.”

House Speaker Paul Thissen told reporters Friday that members of his caucus were hearing “general support for some of the spending priorities that the governor has” from constituents. Assistant Senate Majority Leader Katie Sieben said her members are hearing that their constituents appreciated Dayton’s proposal as a “fiscally sound budget.”

Republicans, though, have declared war on much of Dayton’s plan. They’ve labeled it as a way to tax everything from baby aspirin to Grandma’s over-the-counter medicine – not to mention a “sick puppies tax” on veterinary services.

“This is an extremely expensive budget, and I think you’re starting to see people reflect that concern, and I hope they continue to put pressure on,” Assistant Senate Minority Leader Dave Thompson said on Friday. “If we want to increase spending the way they want to increase it, there’s a price to be paid, and that price is pretty big, and it’s going to be paid by everyone.”

Dayton took a familiar tack on Friday, pushing detractors to propose better alternatives, rather than simply criticize from the sidelines. He also went on the offensive against Republicans who he said haven’t accurately portrayed his ideas.

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“When people have to start misrepresenting [my proposals] or misrepresenting their own, I’d say it’s problematic, but it also, to me, is an affirmative that the track I’m proposing is better than the alternatives,” Dayton said. “If anyone wants to get real and have a real conversation and has a real alternative, I’m all ears.”

Thompson raps Dayton tax plan

Thompson, for his part, accused Dayton of lying about his budget. “I think the people of Minnesota now really understand that despite what the governor is trying to represent, that you don’t raise $2.1 billion in revenue but have nobody pay more taxes,” Thompson said. “It doesn’t work that way.”

But on other issues, Dayton said, he does hope to come together with Republicans on a proposal to increase the contribution limits for political campaigns. He called current guidelines, set in the late 1990s, “almost prohibitive … for a modern-era campaign.”

The governor said he discussed loosening the limits with Republican leaders two weeks ago and stressed that it would help their candidates as well.

A serious GOP contender hasn’t stepped forward to challenge Dayton, who said he isn’t sure if he’ll self-finance much of his campaign again.

“I really have not thought much about the whole enterprise,” Dayton said, “except that I’m going to do everything possible legally and ethically to win.”