A panel of Republican candidates for governor on Wednesday painted a dire portrait of a state in fiscal crisis.
Speaking at a private forum for Medtronic employees, the five GOP contenders described a state budget broken from unsustainable spending. And they spoke about an alarming migration trend they see in which businesses are fleeing the state due to taxes and regulation while indigents flock here to take advantage of overly generous social programs.
The solution, according to former State Auditor Pat Anderson: Be more like South Dakota, a state which has no personal or corporate income tax and fewer public services and amenities.
Minnesota should do “the exact same thing,” Anderson said. “I think the key is to have a good South Dakota-style business climate and then get out of the way.”
But state Rep. Marty Seifert said calling for the elimination of income taxes is “pandering” to voters and that state government needs to use certain subsidies in order to accomplish its goals.
The exchange was one of a couple barbs traded between Seifert and Anderson in what was otherwise a friendly and uncontentious forum, sponsored by Medtronic’s employee political action committee and moderated by Rick Kupchella of BringMeTheNews.com.
Other candidates who participated were state Rep. Tom Emmer, former state Rep. Bill Haas and businessman Phil Herwig.
The candidates generally agreed on a desire to cut taxes, eliminate regulations and shrink state government.
“In Minnesota we’re losing our competitive edge mainly because the tax and regulatory climate,” Seifert said. “My goal is to downsize, rightsize, economize government.”
On health care, the candidates blamed medical malpractice lawsuits and excessive regulation for driving up costs. They spoke about giving consumers more pricing transparency and the ability to buy policies for sale in other states. And they criticized the state’s mandatory coverage rules, which require insurers to cover certain treatments and procedures in every policy.
“If you want insurance that covers alcoholism, that would be your privilege, but it would also be your privilege to pay for the premium for it,” said Herwig.
On energy, the candidates enthusiastically endorsed nuclear power as the “cleanest” and most “cost-effective” form of energy. They said the state should do away with a 15-year-old ban on new nuclear power plant construction. Herwig touted the jobs such projects would bring, while Seifert questioned the reliability of the wind turbines being built his own district.
“If your mom or dad are hooked up to a heart or lung machine at the Mayo Clinic, do you want them plugged into a wind mill or into a nuclear plant?” Seifert said.
On education, the candidates stressed the importance of math and science skills and talked about making it easier for retired professionals to obtain part-time teaching licenses. Seifert accused “special interest groups,” specifically coaches, bus companies and teachers’ unions, of conspiring to shorten the school day. And Herwig proposed saving money by consolidating the state’s 380 school districts into 27 districts.
On the budget, the candidates said the state should stop borrowing money for big construction projects in every session. Seifert defended the use of bonding bills to pay for certain projects such as recovery following a flood or tornado. Haas said the state should base spending to what’s collected rather than using budget projections. Answers frequently led back to household metaphors.
“Everybody seems to want to charge up the credit card before you balance the check book,” said Emmer.
A recent Rasmussen poll shows the 2010 race for governor in Minnesota is still wide open. On the Republican side, Seifert led among declared candidates with just 11 percent of respondents saying they’d vote for him. Meanwhile, “not sure” received 26 percent of responses.
The Medtronic employee group will host a forum for DFL gubernatorial candidates next month.