ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Republican Tom Emmer scolded Democrat Mark Dayton on Friday for making "promises you can't keep" in his bid for Minnesota governor while Dayton accused his rival of taking a sterile view of government.
Seated on the same couch where they held their first boisterous debate almost three months ago, Emmer and Dayton mixed it up over taxes, Minnesota's nearly $6 billion deficit and whether government matters or just gets in the way. A third-party candidate, the Independence Party's Tom Horner, got into the act by portraying his opponents as wedded to the political extremes.
The debate on Twin Cities Public Television was one of more than two dozen the candidates have had, and they recycled many of their past remarks. The race is considered tight heading into the final weekend before Tuesday's election.
The candidates got testy from the opening bell when they were asked to highlight something said about them that's been misguided.
Emmer dug into Dayton over accusations that the Republican's budget plan would force property tax increases as communities cope with lower state aid allowances. Emmer said local tax decisions are best made at the local level.
"I'm the only one up here who's actually sat on a city council that's dealt with local government aid," said Emmer, a state lawmaker and former local official. "It's got to be used for police and fire, essential services for communities that need that type of support."
Dayton cited an analysis by state tax collectors that every state dollar cut from local aid cut results in a 67-cent increase in property taxes.
"You were on a city council where you raised property taxes by 16 percent and you said it was because of reduction in state aid," Dayton told Emmer.
Of the three candidates, only Emmer promises to fix Minnesota's budget problem without raising taxes. Dayton wants to impose a new top bracket on the top 4 percent of incomes while Horner would apply the sales tax to clothes purchases and professional services that now get an exemption.
Emmer charged that Dayton's plan for erasing a budget deficit doesn't leave enough room for new school initiatives he's discussed, such as reduced class sizes and all-day kindergarten. Dayton responded that those are merely goals.
"You're out telling people everything you're going to do for them," Emmer said. "You're going to give them all kinds on new spending in K-12 education, health care, everything."
Dayton, a former U.S. senator, took after Emmer for his proposed slowdown in spending on subsidized health programs. While Emmer's plan would spend about $650 million more than the state does now, it's far below the $3 billion in projected cost rises for services now provided.
"We do have a growing and aging population," Dayton said. "This is about real Minnesotans needing these services."
Emmer said it is wrong to suggest he's out to "slash and burn."
At another point, Emmer said he'd be open to privatizing some of the work government does.
"If there is something a private citizen can do, government should not be doing that function," Emmer said.
The debate had its lighter moments. The three were asked a series of "yes" or "no" questions, including whether banged-up Vikings quarterback Brett Favre should start Sunday's game: Emmer said yes, Dayton punted to "whoever is best for the team" and Horner opted for Favre's backup Tarvaris Jackson.
Horner worked to sell himself as the pragmatic choice for voters. The longtime public relations consultant chimed in when his opponents dodged questions or made remarks inconsistent with past comments. "Throughout this campaign too many promises to too many special interest groups for the two of you," he said.
Minnesota hasn't elected a Democrat governor since 1986, with only Jesse Ventura's Reform Party win in 1998 standing between five straight Republican wins.
The three meet again for a Minnesota Public Radio debate on Sunday. All three have rallies set for Saturday and the television airwaves are filled with political ads, running one after another. Upbeat final ads emerged for the closing days.
In Emmer's softly lit spot, the candidate describes his budget approach as the only honest one and hammers home his message of having government "live within its means."
"We don't need more taxes, we need more jobs. I'm Tom Emmer," he says.
Dayton pulls in images of his two sons and father, a key figure in building the department store chain that formerly bore the Dayton name. The Democratic candidate makes note of the store's famed money-back promise for unsatisfied customers, saying voters could expect the same of him as governor.
"That's a Dayton's guarantee," he says as the ad closes.
Mark Dayton campaign: http://markdayton.org/mainsite/
Tom Emmer campaign: http://www.emmerforgovernor.com/
Tom Horner campaign: http://www.horner2010.com/
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