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Minnesota governor's race: Democrats willing to raise taxes

It was a full house for a St. Paul governor candidate forum Wednesday, but only about half of the candidates attended. From left are Tom Bakk, Mark Dayton, Tom Emmer, Margaret Anderson Kelliher, John Marty, Marty Seifert, Susan Gaertner, Michael Jungbauer, Tom Rukavina, Paul Thissen and Leslie Davis. (Don Davis / State Capitol Bureau)

Tom Rukavina did not mince words in Minnesota's first gubernatorial forum featuring candidates from both major parties.

"I am going to tax everybody in this room," the Virginia Democratic state representative declared.

He promised that if elected he would raise taxes on the richest Minnesotans more than others, but all Minnesotans would pay an income tax surcharge.

Other Democrats, including wealthy Mark Dayton, were willing to increase taxes on the wealthy but less prone to go as far as Rukavina.

Still, Democratic-Farmer-Laborites at the forum agreed they would raise taxes to fix the state's budget problem. The difference among them was a matter of degree.

There was less difference on the Republican side. GOP candidates agreed that keeping taxes low and reducing regulation are the best ways to bring more jobs to the state, and increasing the number of jobs is the best way to help Minnesotans.

Eleven candidates attended Wednesday's Hunger Solutions Minnesota forum in St. Paul's River Centre, including most of those considered front-runners. They answered questions for 90 minutes in front of a crowd that dwindled to fewer than 100 by the end of the forum.

Margaret Anderson Kelliher said she is the moderate candidate in such a large field, both on the Democratic and Republican sides.

Dayton, a former U.S. senator and state official, said the key to his budget plan is to raise taxes on Minnesotans in the top

10 percent of income. Kelliher and John Marty of Roseville agreed with increasing wealthy Minnesotans' taxes more than others, but did not rule out other tax increases.

Rep. Paul Thissen of Minneapolis called for overhauling the state's tax system but refused to list specific tax increases.

Sen. Tom Bakk of Cook suggested that the state look at restoring income tax cuts made in recent years. While not being specific, Bakk said he understands that businesses need to be considered when deciding on taxes. "I'm a different kind of Demo-crat."

Republicans, on the other hand, stuck together in saying taxes should not be raised.

"It is not a matter of raising taxes," said Tom Emmer of Delano. "You have got to cut taxes."

Rep. Marty Seifert of Marshall emphasized the need to bolster Minnesota business.

"Everything needs to be done through the lens of economic growth," Seifert said.

Sen. Michael Jungbauer of East Bethel, long involved in the ministry, complained that government has taken over charitable works from the faith community and in doing so increased state spending.