Gov. Dayton, Johnson spar at debate

Published 10:16 am Monday, October 20, 2014

ST. PAUL — Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican challenger Jeff Johnson confronted one another Sunday over claims being made in their race during a debate that showcased differences on Minnesota budget and gun policy.

The KMSP-TV debate at Hamline University also shed a more personal light on the pair: Dayton confessed to having smoked marijuana in his lifetime and to having a weakness for chocolate ice cream; Johnson shared his affinity for Dairy Queen Blizzards and declined to say how he would define the middle class.

Both men acknowledged to having spanked one of their sons once in their life, an issue in the news given Vikings running back Adrian Peterson’s legal troubles over corporal punishment.

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Dayton put Johnson on the spot over his associations with the tea party and a prior comment that he would “go all Scott Walker on Minnesota,” referring to the Wisconsin governor who curbed the power of public sector unions. Johnson has repeatedly tried to clarify those remarks.

“I look around the country and see governors all over that I would follow in certain areas. Scott Walker would be one of them in that he believes in less regulation and he believes in lower taxes,” Johnson said before adding other governors he would emulate.

Dayton wasn’t satisfied.

“You have this habit of saying something definitively at one point and then a few months later you equivocate,” Dayton said.

Johnson challenged Dayton’s competence, saying he “often times doesn’t seem to know what’s going on in his own administration.” He used Dayton’s stewardship of Vikings stadium legislation as an example because the governor later complained about seat license fees assessed to season ticket holders.

Dayton replied, “I know what’s in the bills. I know the big picture. The big picture for Minnesota is we’ve made enormous progress and we will continue to make progress.”

Surplus plan

If Minnesota stays on track for another budget surplus, the candidates’ plans for the first $100 million differ.

Dayton said he would use it to expand a child-care tax credit so more families qualify. Last year, he proposed making it available to 170,000 families but the plan stalled.

Johnson said the money could make it easier to pull off “comprehensive tax reform” that dramatically alters the mix of what is paid in property, sales, income and corporate taxes.

If a deficit of that size emerges, Johnson said he would seek to cut spending. “We’re not short of money, we’re unable to prioritize,” he said.

Dayton said he too would look for savings first, but said the state could also dip into a newly augmented budget reserve.