Final gubernatorial debate focuses on budget deficit, transportation

Libby George

In the final debate before Tuesday’s elections, the four major gubernatorial candidates challenged each other Friday on Twin Cities Public Television’s “Almanac.”

Facing a state budget deficit of more than $3 billion, the debate focused heavily on budget solutions.

Only Green Party candidate Ken Pentel said he would raise sales or income taxes.

Pentel told hosts Eric Eskola and Cathy Wurzer, “If we go from where we are right now to 14 percent (income tax) on the top 10 percent income earners,” enough money could be generated to solve a variety of the state’s problems.

Democratic candidate Roger Moe and Independence Party candidate Tim Penny said they would not commit to raises but did not dismiss the idea.

“I’m certainly not excited about (raising taxes),” Moe said, adding that the state has to stand behind priorities such as education funding and transportation improvement.

Penny said he was the only candidate offering to review programs for efficiency but would not rule out sales tax increases.

“Every program has to be reviewed for savings,” Penny said. “I’m certainly not closing the door about expansion of sales tax.”

Republican candidate Tim Pawlenty said he would not consider sales tax increases.

“We need to have government do what most families do,” Pawlenty said, “Live within its means.”

Transportation

all candidates agreed on creating a mixed transportation system in the Twin Cities, focusing on buses, light rail and improved roads.

But their solutions were different.

Pawlenty proposed a $2 billion package in which the state would borrow money using current low interest loans and immediately make improvements in transportation.

“The costs of the project are increasing at 20 percent per year,” Pawlenty said, advocating for the state to act now.

Moe proposed a $5 billion, 10-year plan that would increase gas taxes.

Penny also said he would raise gas taxes to fund transportation and was critical of Pawlenty’s plan.

“(Taxpayers) are willing to pay for what they need, and they know they need roads,” Penny said. “To simply say you’ve got a big, bold plan to borrow money and build roads, that’s building with your children’s checkbooks.”

Pentel said before any projects are looked at, campaign finance reform needs to be addressed in order to “get special interests out and good ideas in.”

Pentel added that a pollution tax could also be a solution.

Funding education

moe and Pentel said education funding at the state level is a priority, Penny supported referendums in individual districts and Pawlenty demanded school accountability.

“I firmly believe the state has to stand behind this commitment,” Moe said.

Pentel said Minnesota schools rank among the top in the nation, but teachers’ pay rates are among the lowest.

“We are doing great, and we need to reward for doing great,” Pentel said.

“(It’s) not just about funding,” Pawlenty said. “It’s about accountability.” He said curriculum review and performance pay should be considered.

Penny said he would support referendums in districts, which would fund schools but force them to be accountable to the community.

Health care reform

although Pentel advocates a single-payer health care system in Minnesota, all the other candidates said they would not.

This system, which is used in Canada and many western European countries, ensures all citizens have health coverage from “cradle to grave” and controls the cost of doctor visits and prescription drugs.

“We can’t afford the suffering of citizens who don’t have health care,” Pentel said.

Pawlenty said he would solve the high costs of health care and prescription drugs by ensuring there is competition in the marketplace and implementing a prescription drug plan for senior citizens.

Penny said a single-payer health care system is “not the way we do things in America,” and instead suggested progressive insurance reform, more competition in the marketplace, focus on preventative health and creating large purchasing pools for insurance.

Moe also said he would not support a single-payer system and advocated preventative health measures and pooling health care plans for small farms and schools.

Specially marked licenses

another hot-button issue candidates debated was driver’s licenses for foreigners.

The plan – designed by President George W. Bush’s administration – would require licenses of temporary foreign visitors to have a special marking indicating they are foreigners. All candidates except Pawlenty stood against the idea.

“Zacharias Moussaoui is not an anomaly,” Pawlenty said. “I’m not going to sacrifice our public safety Ö because these people want to be politically correct.” He added that 19 other states have passed similar laws.

Penny, Moe and Pentel all agreed this would stigmatize foreigners and alienate cooperation from foreign communities, which are vital to tracking terrorists.

They also criticized a recent Pawlenty campaign ad featuring the subject.

“It’s clearly designed as a scare tactic,” Penny said. “It’s not the issue – it’s the campaign.”

Moe agreed, saying: “Leadership means you build bridges, you don’t build walls. This ad built walls.”

The debate can be viewed online by going to tpt.org and clicking “Minnesota’s choice for governor.”


Libby George covers national politics and welcomes comments at [email protected]