Governor Mark Dayton squared off against Republican Jeff Johnson and Independence Party candidate Hannah Nicollet Wednesday night in Rochester. This is the the first gubernatorial interparty debate of the season.
Above – video of the entire debate
Below – post debate comments from Johnson, Nicollet and others
Below that: Transcript of the entire debate by Susan Maricle
JF = Jay Furst, Moderator
JJ = Jeff Johnson, Republican candidate
HN = Hannah Nicollet, Independence Party Candidate
MD = Mark Dayton, DFL Incumbent Governor
JF: Good evening and welcome to Mayo Civic Center in Rochester for the first debate of the 2014 campaign for Minnesota Governor. I’m Jay Furst, managing editor of the Post Bulletin in Rochester, and I’ll moderate tonight’s debate. The first of five to be held around the state. Tonight’s event was organized by the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce, and by the Post Bulletin. And it’s being broadcast live around the state on public TV and well beyond. And thanks to our public TV sponsors tonight.
We’re joined by the three major party candidates tonight. DFL incumbent Governor Mark Dayton, Republican candidate and Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, and Independence Party candidate Hannah Nicollet. Thank you for being here, and you can applaud.
JF: Okay, here are the ground rules. I’ll read the question. Each candidate will have ninety seconds to respond. We have highly skilled timekeepers down in front here to keep us on track. I have the discretion to allow a thirty-second rebuttal. Or I can ask a followup if the candidate hasn’t clearly answered the question or addressed the question. So, it behooves the candidate to address the question.
Halfway through the debate, to spice things up, we’ll have a lightning round. Very quick, yes or no type questions. And the candidates will keep those answers concise. Then we’ll resume with three or four full-length questions. And to wrap it up, each candidate has two minutes to make a closing statement. So that’s a lot of work to do in one hour.
The questions were dreamed up by the debate sponsors and the candidates have not seen them in advance. They don’t know the topics in advance. We cut cards backstage to determine who gets to respond to the first question. So again, we only have one hour. We have a lot we want to cover. And so we’d really appreciate it if you hold your applause until the very end. Uh, the candidates have a lot of friends here tonight as as you know. And the very best way you can help your candidate is by holding your applause to the end.
So, are we ready to roll?
Off camera candidate: Yes.
JF: Okay. First question is on Minnesota’s economy, and tax and spending issues. One of the Governor’s first tasks at the start of the term is to submit a budget for the state. A planning estimate for Minnesota management and budget, after the last legislative session, estimated a surplus of six hundred and three million dollars for the next biennium. Here’s the question. Considering this budget estimate, what changes would you make in Minnesota’s budget and tax system to enhance Minnesota’s business climate? Commissioner Johnson, you won the cut, I believe, with an ace, ace being high, so you go first, followed by Governor Dayton and Ms. Nicollet.
JJ: All right, thank you Jay, and I just want to thank you and the hosts for putting this together tonight. I do appreciate it. I- I think here is where you’re gonna see a very fundamental difference between the Governor and me as to where we would put our priorities when it comes to the economy of Minnesota. Ah, in particular, I’ve been told that every state that surrounds us has billboards up saying “Open for business, come to us.” We don’t have those billboards in Minnesota, and unfortunately, their billboards are actually working.
We we just learned from the Bureau of Labor Statistics last week that over the past year Minnesota has actually had the worst job growth rate in the Midwest, and the forty-first worst in the country. We also have seen that underemployment in Minnesota is at fifty-three percent. Which means that half the people in this state who are working are actually overqualified and probably underpaid. And that all directly relates to our taxing and regulatory, and in some cases spending policies in this state.
You are gonna see me working hard to reform our taxes. I have a strong belief that the tax system should be low, broad and simple. And almost any economist will tell you that that’s what you need to do. And I suspect you’ll see big changes in the second biennium rather than the first, because we’ll only have a few weeks to make big changes. But if we have a lower tax system, a simpler tax system, a fairer tax system, we’re gonna be starting to encourage the growth of the good jobs that we’ve been losing to the states that surround us these past few years.
JF: Thank you. Governor Dayton.
MD: When I took office three and a half years ago, the state was facing a projected six point two billion dollar deficit for the next biennium. We owed the schools two point eight billion dollars, so I would say the fiscal situation of the state at that time was dire. Now we’re looking at a surplus of six hundred and three million dollars, an additional quarter million dollars that was transferred over to the Healthcare Access Fund. So really about a billion dollars of cushion there, and we don’t owe the schools anything. And we’ve eliminated most of the rates from the other accounts in state government so we got a sound fiscal platform from which to go into the future. Now, the next two revenue forecasts in November and the end of February will really set the table for what we have to work with. But, y’know I don’t see raising anyone’s taxes. I think we’ve made taxes less regressive in Minnesota, due to the actions we took in 2013.
We have a cost of government which has been widely acclaimed in the past as the best barometer of state taxation and spending relative to capacity of the people in the state as one of the lowest it’s been in, since it’s been recorded. So we have spending under control. We have made new investments in education, higher education, in early childhood, in all-day kindergarten. And we have strong, robust employment growth, a hundred and sixty thousand new jobs on which to build further.
JF: Okay. Thank you Governor. Ms. Nicollet.
HN: Well first of all, I’d like to thank you for having me. And, as to that, y’know, where we’re going, I I agree that ah so the Bureau of Labor Statistics came out with a statistic with regard to our private sector job growth. And that does concern me for our future. Our economy has grown at about point eight percent over the past year, and we need ah, we need private sector job growth. Because that’s what creates wealth. Y’know wealth is stuff and services that people actually want. And government jobs aren’t usually wealth producing.
So, ah so what the first thing I’d like to do is get rid of the corporate tax in Minnesota. It’s third highest in the nation. There’s nothing we can do about the fact that, y’know like Medtronic just renounced their U.S. legal tax status. They’re going to Ireland where they only have twelve and a half percent. Well we could ah we could compete much better if we didn’t have the third highest corporate tax in the nation at nine point eight percent. It’s also only four percent of revenue. And it’s the most costly to collect.
So first thing to go would be, we would put a sale on our ah Having a Business in Minnesota. And I would expect that then we would actually grow revenue, because historically, when you cut, when you make it cheaper to have a business in your state, businesses want to come to your state. So that’s the first thing I would address. I would also address our burdensome regulations. We have a, we have an abundance of y’know for instance, if you have a wetland on your property, you want to do something with your property. You’re a business, you’re a residence, whatever it is, you have to go through nine different state and local agencies and some of them will conflict with one another. So I say we go to one standard, and the answer is yes or no.
JF: Okay. You did a great job of observing the time cards, so we’re off to a good start. Question number two is on Local Government Aid or LGA. Local Government Aid helps communities pay for basic services that people rely on. LGA has been successful at narrowing tax base disparities between cities and has helped provide services without extreme property tax burdens. In 2014 cities had the third lowest levy increase in twenty-five years due to the partial restoration of state aid law since 2002. So here’s the question. Would you make LGA a budget priority and restore the remaining forty-eight million dollars to bring aid to cities back to 2002 funding levels. So Governor Dayton it’s your turn to go first, followed by Ms. Nicollet and Commissioner Johnson.
MD: Well, I made Local Government Aid a priority because it’s essential to providing the kind of services that people depend upon from their local government, such as police, fire protection, ah, social services, street plowing and the like. And the way it’s been set up in the state of Minnesota creates municipal governments and sets up the terms by which they can operate. And the way it has been established is there are two main sources of revenue for the local governments of Minnesota. One is the property tax and the other is Local Government Aid. So when you cut Local Government Aid, as the greater Minnesota cities have noted over the last previous decade to when I arrived, there’s no choice but for property taxes to be increased and for services to be cut. So we in ’13 and ’14 increased Local Government Aids, the DFL Legislature and myself, and the result was as was noted one of the lowest increases in property tax rates in the state, in the nation, in the history of the last, of this century. And also uh gave local governments the wherewithal to go back and make some badly needed investments to upgrade their operations, their facilities, their police and fire equipment machinery, so Local Government Aid will depend on the budget for the next year (unclear) will depend on these revenue forecasts I mentioned earlier, but absolutely, Local Government Aid will continue to be a strong priority of mine.
JF: Okay. Ms Nicollet.
HN: I believe it’s a priority in a sense that it’s an issue of unfunded mandates. The state requires cities to provide services that they don’t pay for. So that’s been a problem for cities. They don’t actually have the funds to pay for the services that they’re required y’know like child protection that they’re required by by the state to provide. So in, the way that I see it, any service that the state requires a city to provide, you can’t require of someone something, anything of anyone that you don’t expect to pay for yourself. So I believe that if the y’know if the state is requiring it of a city, then they should be willing to, we should be willing to pick up the tab for it. Then we consider it a mandatory service that the state of Minnesota provides, whether it’s – Child Protective Services is simply under the y’know the Constitutional responsibilities of state government. And we provide for public safety as y’know a Constitutional responsibility, and so Child Protective Services falls under that, falls under that ah, balloon. Thank you.
JF: Okay. Commissioner Johnson.
JJ: Um, there was an increase in Local Government Aid last year under the all-DFL government that we have, but there was also the largest portion I believe that we’ve ever seen of Local Government Aid going to Minneapolis. And that’s at the direct expense of communities in greater Minnesota. And that has been a pretty common theme in in the Dayton administration. Greater Minnesota in many ways has become an afterthought in this state. Whether you’re looking at where we spend our transportation dollars, whether you’re looking at K-12 education funding formulas, whether you’re looking at some of the regulations that are killing our farmers and our miners and our loggers in this state, or whether you look at LGA, there’s a very metro-centric philosophy at the Capitol right now.
I believe in the original intent of LGA, which is to provide, or which was to provide for communities that have a low property tax base, the money to provide basic services, like roads and bridges, like police and fire and emergency services, ah like sewer and water. But I think we’ve moved far far away from that, and we’re directing it now to cities that don’t need that help. I’ve had the question, Are you, Will you promise to increase Local Government Aid? I won’t make that promise. But I will promise to do everything that I can to direct the money that’s already in Local Government Aid to the communities that actually need it. Because that’s not happening right now.
JF: Governor Dayton, since this is a greater Minnesota oriented debate, I’ll give you thirty seconds if you want to respond to Commissioner Johnson on that point.
MD: Well, the facts just don’t support what Commissioner Johnson alleges. The bonding bill last year, thirty-eight percent of it went to greater Minnesota, twenty-eight percent to the metro, and the rest was statewide projects that ten percent went to the State Capitol project. Unemployment rates right now in Rochester are three point three percent. Mankato three point seven percent, you look at the development projects downtown in both those cities as well as St. Cloud. The bonding bill as I said, the focus has been very much on greater Minnesota needs (unclear), and that’s why the economies are expanding.
JF: Okay. Question number three is on MNsure, the state insurance exchange, and MNsure was in the news today. Regional insurance rates under MNsure vary widely. They’re lowest in the Twin Cities this year and people in southeastern Minnesota face the steepest rates, plus have fewer choices. Ditto in northeastern Minnesota. The geographical disparity has been linked in part to access to dominant health hospital and clinic systems. Now with PreferredOne dropping out, further changes are ahead in rates. So, here’s the question. As Governor, how would you help make sure MNsure rates and plan options are equitable in all corners of the state? And Ms. Nicollet, it’s your turn followed by Commissioner Johnson and Governor Dayton.
HN: Thank you. Well obviously, it’s gonna be difficult y’know. Ah, MNsure just had the largest enrollee, PreferredOne, drop out of the program. So y’know we’re now looking at, and they had the lowest rates. And of course, there have been all kinds of administrative problems, software glitches and the whole rollout went out poorly. So, we’ll probably have to, we’ll probably have to fix it. As long as there is a federal mandate that requires that we have federal health insurance here as a state.
And I don’t see us handing over federal control. We ah, if we have a federal exchange, then we lose, then we lose all the federal subsidies, and that’s, that addresses another subject, which is our, which is how much we receive back from the federal government already. Minnesota sends ninety billion dollars a year to the federal government, and we only receive about only forty-five billion back. So we receive about fifty cents on every dollar, and we have to jump through hoops to get it. So at this point I’m not willing to give MNsure ah y’know, if we don’t have MNsure then we don’t even receive the the subsidies that come alongside the y’know having our own exchange. For whatever reason, if you go to the federal exchange, you don’t receive the federal subsidies. So we need to fix it, regardless. We need to implement it.
Now if I learned anything as a software developer, it’s that you don’t reinvent the wheel. So, we find, ah we find software and administrative handling of y’know of an exchange that’s actually working well, and we tailor it to Minnesota and implement it here. That would be my suggestion.
JF: Okay. Thank you. Commissioner Johnson.
JJ: Well, we had the best insurance system in the country in Minnesota, prior to MNsure. We don’t anymore. And Governor, you desperately wanted to be the first state in the country to implement Obamacare in Minnesota in the form of MNsure, and you got everything you wanted. And it’s been an unmitigated disaster, and it’s hurting thousands of people.
A hundred and forty thousand plus Minnesotans who have been forced off their healthcare because of MNsure. Many of them lost their doctor. Some of them lost their hospitals. We’ve seen rates increase after MNsure. They’re about to spike next year from what we learned today. We have the highest deductibles in the country. We have parents with babies who can’t get their babies on insurance for months because this thing is such a mess. And Governor, you you had a press conference today and you said that you don’t lose any sleep over MNsure and we should celebrate it. I lose sleep over MNsure! Hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans are losing sleep over MNsure.
So what do we do about it? Number one, I’m gonna demand a section thirteen thirty-two waiver under the Affordable Care Act which is called a State Innovation Waiver at least as a starting point, so we can bring some of the things that we had before that worked better, back. But we can’t get that til 2017. So in the short term, I can tell you right now I will fire every member of that board and the top staff, because they are incompetent. I will take away their ability to make rules without public input, and I will work very hard to remove barriers for the private sector to actually compete with MNsure. We used to be the best in the country. We’re not anymore. And because of that, thousands of people are being hurt. And I think it’s time we had a Governor who’ll do something about it.
JF: Thank you. Governor Dayton.
MD: The announcement today was that, for the second year now in a row, Minnesota will have the lowest rates of any health exchange in the country. So we’ve succeeded in keeping the insurance costs relatively low, there’s a four point five percent average increase, it varies from one part of the state to another. And we’ve brought the rate of people who were unemployed – uninsured in Minnesota – down by forty percent. We had the second lowest percent of people uninsured of any state in the nation. And hundreds of thousands of people have had access to healthcare that they didn’t have before because of disqualification for pre-existing conditions, because of ceilings on the total amount of health expenditures in a lifetime. And a number of other ways in which the Affordable Care Act has opened the door for people to be able to both to afford and be assured of they’re gonna have quality care.
Now, y’know you can cite some statistics that are misleading. A hundred and forty thousand people were with healthcare plans that were not ACA compliant. And were required to become so. So the insurers had to adjust those plans to offer them something better than what they had before. That’s the, that’s one of the purposes of the Affordable Care Act. Is to ensure people that they’re gonna have coverage for their needs which a lot of people don’t find out until after it’s too late. Half of, over half the personal bankruptcies in this country are caused by healthcare costs that exceed people’s means, and most of those people have insurance.
JF: Thank you. Now we’ll have our lightning round of quick questions, and we’re looking for straight up yes or no answers. With just a sentence or two of elaboration. Recently, the state’s building code was updated to mandate home indoor sprinkler systems for homes over forty-five hundred square feet, which will add to the cost of new homes. Do you support the new mandate, Commissioner Johnson?
JJ: Absolutely not, and this is a great example of a difference I think in philosophy, between the Governor and me, where the belief is, government always knows best. I think consumers should choose whether they want to put sprinklers in their homes or not.
JF: Okay. Governor Dayton.
MD: Yes I support it, and people who haven’t had the experience of going into a burning building and having to risk their lives or give their lives to put out those fires are in no position to judge what the firefighters of this state say overwhelmingly is necessary for their protection and for the safety of people who live in those residences.
JF: And Ms. Nicollet.
HN: I don’t. I believe it’s the work of lobbyists to make sure that every luxury available is mandated to be put into building codes. And it is only affordable to the wealthy. If you’re at a lower income, this can make a difference. I saw a stat a few years ago that every five thousand dollars you add on to the price of a house eliminates thirty-five thousand people from being able to afford that house. So, I support affordable housing and I wouldn’t mandate it.
JF: Okay. Commissioner Johnson, I might give you a shot at responding to the Governor’s comments about firefighters, if you want to take that.
JJ: Sure. And, and I don’t think any lobby, no matter how great the lobby is, or no matter how much we agree with the lobby should be dictating our policy. And what it comes down to is exactly what Hannah said. Because of this new mandate, which most of the Legislature, from both parties, didn’t seem to like, we are now increasing the cost of homes and pricing some people out of being able to buy.
JF: Okay. Number two in the lightning round, the state just created a twenty million dollar fund to expand Minnesota’s broadband infrastructure. Recently, the Governor’s broadband task force recommended an additional two hundred million dollars for the next two years for the infrastructure grant fund. Do you support the task force’s two hundred million dollar recommendation? Governor Dayton.
MD: Yes, it’s definitely one of my priorities. That’s part of the cost. We have, the task force had estimated between eight hundred million and three billion dollars to really complete the broadband access of Minnesota. So it’s a very expensive proposition but that’s a step in the right direction.
JF: Ms. Nicollet.
HN: I support I support broadband access throughout rural areas, and I do think that that’s a hindrance to being able to do business in rural areas. It’s y’know the same as mail service really. Ah, you know, our new mail service, our new mode of communication primary is the internet. So um but far as how it’s being allocated right now, my concern is that I’ve seen, ah, right now we’re at about ninety-nine percent of people of people being connected at acceptable, what y’know, what the state has determined to be acceptable download speeds, and seventy five percent at acceptable upload speeds. So we’re looking at about twenty-five percent getting up to par on upload speeds.
Ah, I would probably rather see, because what we’ve had problems with is that the government has been competing with private business. So in Monticello we had an instance where they came in and installed cable, and then started having a price war with the cable companies that were already there. I would rather have us focus our resources on areas that are not connected at all, and start with those, y’know two hundred million dollars is is an awful lot of money, and it’s and it’s highly important. But we’re also on the cusp of new technology too that may not involve laying cable at all. So we’re looking at satellite and whatnot, so I would just be hesitant to y’know go go full bore ahead. But y’know public buildings, we have y’know we want to make sure that all of our schools are hooked up and that they can be hot spots and make sure that all of our areas that are currently not covered right now are covered.
JF: Okay. So that was a few lines more than what I was expecting. But, but I do want to ask –
HN: (laughs) Oh, sorry
JF: – so, would you support the task force’s two hundred million dollar recommendation?
HN: So, I, provided that it’s allocated to areas that are not already connected.
JF: Okay. Commissioner Johnson.
JJ: Gee, I don’t know if I would support that exact number. I don’t know where I’d end up. I can tell you that broadband connectivity will be a priority for me because I’m a, I’m a strong believer that if we actually want to be competitive from a business standpoint, every area of the state has to be connected. I would agree with Hannah that I’m not a big fan of the government entering the private market as a competitor, but if we can use this money to incent the private sector, I’d be very supportive of that.
JF: Okay. Question number three. Do you support the development of high-speed passenger rail between Rochester and the Twin Cities, the project that’s called Zip Rail? That’s an issue that a lot of people around here care about. So, we’re going with Ms. Nicollet first this time.
HN: So at this point I’m more concerned, we have a lot of, the rail that I’m concerned most concerned about right now is ah, we have farmers with grain that’s sitting on rail and not able to move and it’s at a crisis situation. So I would like to see that real issue addressed, and we also have a roads crisis. I mean, we’re looking at seven to nine billion dollars, half of our roads are over fifty years old and in need of repair, and we have a thousand bridges. So we keep dropping billions on on people rail and even though y’know even though I’ve got nothing against it, my concern is that we’re not focusing on our needs. And instead, focusing more on our wants.
So, we need to refocus our priorities, we need those roads and bridges. It’s, y’know, having good roads and bridges is, is essential to your economy. And so that’s where I would focus the the effort right now. And coming up with seven to nine billion, y’know, we’ve come up with four billion for Vikings stadiums and several lines of rail already, so I believe that we can easily find the seven to nine billion that we need. It’s actually setting us back. It costs every Minnesotan money not to take care of that. So that would be my primary concern. And I’m less concerned with rail projects, I feel like those should be secondary to any y’know to our roads and bridges, that we address those first.
JF: Okay. Commissioner Johnson.
JJ: Show me the cost/benefit analysis and I’ll take a look at it. I’ve I’ve not been a big fan of rail projects in general, because I think they’re a terribly inefficient use of transportation dollars. But I’ve been told by some advocates for the Zip Rail that this one’s gonna pay for itself. I’m skeptical, but I, my ears are open. If if somebody can prove that to me, then I’ll certainly consider it.
JF: Okay. Governor Dayton.
MD: I would agree with Commissioner Johnson. It needs to go through a careful cost/benefit analysis. It also has to be used in conjunction with the Destination Medical Center here in Rochester, which I’ve strongly supported. And the state of Minnesota has backed and as a result, this area’s gonna be transformed. The Mayo’s private sector employment may as much as double over the next ten twenty years. It’s gonna be a phenomenal impact on our state, on medical technology industry and Minnesota between the University of Minnesota and Mayo, has the opportunity to become a magnet for that kind of growth of jobs and opportunities. And Zip Rail line would certainly enhance that connection.
JF: Okay. So a few more lightning round questions, and the more concise answers the better. The most recent proposed amendments to the Minnesota Constitution were highly controversial. Currently only a simple majority of the Legislature is required to put a proposed Constitutional amendment on the ballot. Should this threshold be raised to ensure more consensus when proposing changes to the Constitution? And Commissioner Johnson, you’re first.
JJ: No, I don’t think it should. I think the system we have is workable, and I think it’s proven to have worked in the past.
JF: Okay. Governor Dayton.
JF: That’s a very concise answer.
MD: I’d be glad to elaborate if you give me another two minutes.
JF: No, no, I appreciate it. Ms. Nicollet.
HN: No. I guess we’re all succinct.
JF: Okay. Ah, last one in the quick round here. Should liquor sales be permitted on Sundays? Governor Dayton.
MD: My great-grandfather would turn over in his grave if he knew that I was for selling anything on Sundays, but I don’t think we should distinguish liquor and automobiles from other commodities that people wanna buy. And if they want to shop on Sunday y’know more and more of our population has a day of faith not on Sunday, so it gets hard to isolate one day and say “You can do this, you can’t do that.”
JF: Okay. Ms. Nicollet.
HN: Yeah, well y’know any legal product should be able to be sold on any day. We have y’know Sunday is a religious holiday for Christians. Saturday, y’know Friday night sundown to Saturday night sundown is the Sabbath for Jewish people, ah y’know so why do we pick Sunday in particular? It seems y’know it seems unfair ah to other faiths. But regardless, any legal product should be able to be sold on any day of the week. And if you y’know, you’re a business owner and you want to close on Sunday, more power to you. Go ahead. Ah, but yeah, we wouldn’t ah y’know I wouldn’t support that, and ah, and I, I’m also against the fact that y’know sixty percent of Minnesotans want Sunday alcohol sales. So, why shouldn’t they have it?
JF: Okay. Commissioner Johnson.
JJ: Ah yes, and this is frustrating to me because everybody says “Let’s do it,” but the last two years there’s been a big push under all-DFL control. We can’t get it done for some reason. So we’ll get it done if I’m Governor.
JF: Okay. Well, after that brisk little exercise we’ll now go back to long form questions, and you’ll have a luxurious ninety seconds to answer. (laughs) This one’s about Destination Medical Center, which is Topic A in Rochester. Destination Medical Center is a new approach for public/private partnerships. The plan calls for a specific local investment to occur before approved state funding is released. The goal is the combination of efforts that will drive regional regional economic growth that will provide a boost for much of the state. Some have suggested the plan could serve as a model for targeted economic development efforts in other parts of the state.
So here’s the question. Do you agree with how DMC was structured as a way to promote regional development, and would you support similar public/private partnerships elsewhere? And if so, do you have some in mind? So Ms. Nicollet, you’re up first, followed by Commissioner Johnson and Governor Dayton.
HN: Well, as far as the plan I’ve y’know I believe it’s already been put in place and it’s just a multiplier that’s that’s so y’know the Destination Medical Center, that help from the state has already been promised, and ah so y’know, we should keep our promises. But what I saw as the larger issue with regard to the Destination Medical Center and the the problem with the multiplier, is that our our Attorney General and our Governor’s office aren’t even in communication right now, which I don’t know if you’ve seen our ah at the Independence Party, we’ve been working as a team. So all five of us, the all five state office candidates ah pull together. We are y’know working on issues together. We’re working we’re we put our ad together as a team. And we believe in ah that’s what I believe in, is being a team player. That’s part of what I see the role of Governor as, is finding talent and tasking issues. And so that’s what I’d like to see us do. Is y’know tackle everything as a team. The fact that the Attorney General and Governor aren’t even in communication right now is really concerning to me. I would like to see us working together as a state to improve the whole state.
JF: Thank you. Commissioner Johnson.
JJ: Well I I believe that DMC is very good for Rochester and it’s very good for Minnesota. And I believe that the government does have a role to play in public/private partnerships when it comes to infrastructure upgrades. And and paying for things like roads and bridges. I I would have had a difference of opinion on the definition of infrastructure. I’ve been very clear on that with respect to this bill. Had I been a Legislature, legislator, and not able to change it, I likely wouldn’t have supported it. If I had been Governor, however, because I recognize the importance of it, I would have sat down with the authors and figured out how to work that difference out. Ah so I I I think that it is something that is important. As Hannah mentioned, it’s likely gonna have to come up again next year because we apparently had another misunderstanding of what was in a bill from the Governor’s office. And there’s a disagreement with the Attorney General’s office. And it’s gonna have to be fixed next year. Some people have said it’s an easy fix. There’s never an easy fix of anything when you reopen something controversial. It’ll probably be difficult. Ah, but I will work to get it done as Governor.
JF: Very good. Thank you. Governor Dayton.
MD: Well, it wouldn’t be need to be fixed if it weren’t existed at all. And that’d be the situation if when the Mayo Clinic executives came and said “We have this vision for the future of Rochester and really for the state of Minnesota in terms of medical care, medical technology.” If I as Governor and the legislative leaders, and it was bipartisan. The representation here in Rochester is bipartisan. And if we hadn’t stepped forward and said right away “Yes” with enthusiasm, we’re on board, we’re with you, we want to partner with the city, the county, and with you Mayo, and the private donations you’re gonna raise, then, you wouldn’t have anything to fix. So, in this case, we’ll get this matter of tech resolved, beginning of next legislative session, it’s not a difficult matter, and we’ll proceed. It’s a phenomenal project for Rochester, phenomenal for the state of Minnesota, for reasons I described before.
And should it be a model for other investments of that type? Other partnerships? Absolutely. And this is one of the areas where there is principal disagreement. I believe there is a role for government to provide incentives and then to partner with ah the private sector in order to make these projects happen. Or you could look at Agco in Jackson Minnesota, you can look at Segetis up on the Range, you look at Shutterfly in Shakopee. All over the state there are projects where we’ve moved forward because we made the investments along with the smaller in scale relative to the DMC. But the same kind of seeding that is crucial to get the projects going and expanding.
JF: Commissioner Johnson, to back up for a moment: so do you think this model works, and can you envision it being used in other parts of the state with particular projects?
JJ: I could see it – I could see it being used in other parts of the state, as long as the definition of infrastructure is truly about infrastructure, roads in particular. So there’d probably be some negotiation with respect to that if I were Governor.
JF: Okay. And Ms. Nicollet, I’d ask you too.
HN: I would agree that when we, y’know when we provide what we’ve promised to provide as a state for a new new infrastructure, we provide roads, we provide sewage, all that – then, y’know, then it’s absolutely effective and y’know broadband maybe an issue with that also, but yeah, it’s a – provided that we’re providing transportation and infrastructure.
JF: Okay. That leads nicely into the next question, which is on transportation. Minnesota faces transportation funding challenges at every level. By one estimate, state highway funding will fall twelve billion dollars short of what’s needed over the next twenty years. Last year the Corridors of Commerce program was created to help remove bottlenecks and increase capacity on key highways. Over 120 projects were submitted for initial funding, of which ten received funding. Also, a task force of twenty mayors from smaller cities are working to develop ah programs and plans to fund local and municipal road improvements.
So, here’s the question. What is your vision for investing in Minnesota’s transportation system, including roads and communities large and small, as well as the Corridors of Commerce program, and how would this vision be funded? Kind of a big baggy question. Commissioner Johnson, you get the first crack at this, followed by Governor Dayton and Ms. Nicollet.
JJ: Well first of all, I would support the Corridors, will support the Corridors of Commerce program. I happen to believe we don’t spend enough money on roads. That might be the only area of government where I’m willing to say that. But the the problem has become, that especially in the last couple of years, all of the energy, all of the focus in transportation is on everything but roads and bridges. It’s on light rail, it’s on commuter rail, it’s on trolleys and streetcars and bike paths and sidewalks. And complete streets, which I have come to learn, means everything but the street. And that is exactly backwards. Because we all rely upon roads and bridges by far more than anything else. Even if you don’t drive a car – you rely upon roads and bridges to get the goods to your grocery store that you can buy, or to get the fire truck to your house if you have a fire.
So my focus is going to be heavily on roads and bridges, and ah yes, we do have a a funding problem with that – that that the gas tax all by itself is not gonna cover what we need to do. But part of that is about priorities. It’s about actually saying “We’re gonna put this up at the top,” and rather than spending on all these other things ahead of it, we’re gonna say “This is where we’re gonna spend first.” And then worry about some of these other things later.
I’m also someone who would be willing to support much more significant bonding when it comes to transportation projects. That might require a Constitutional change to do, but I would be willing to push that forward. We we’ve GOT to start focusing on roads and bridges over all these other forms of transportation.
JF: Thank you. Governor Dayton.
MD: Well, I would agree again with Commissioner Johnson about the need to increase expenditures and increasing the bonding capacity. Right now Minnesota Department of Transportation pays ah up to twenty percent of its revenues for the bonds that it’s already issued. So it is a capacity and it’s definitely something that needs to be addressed in the next legislative session.
There’s about a six billion dollar gap, twenty billion you said, Jay, over twenty years, six billion over the next ten years between what we need to spend just to keep the system as it is now, about maintaining the status quo, which as we all know, has deteriorated over the last couple of decades, greater congestion, deterioration of the trunk highway system, more accidents, more fatalities. So next session, we’re gonna have to face up to, are we gonna come up with additional money that’s necessary to make those investments, to at least break even and ideally to improve our system.
Some people say, “Well, y’know we’ll just get administrative efficiencies out of the Department of Transportation.” Which is a very important aspect of it, but it’s not gonna come close to the amount of additional expenditure necessary. So the people of Minnesota really have to decide through their elected representatives, are they satisfied with things as they are? Are they willing to pay additional money from some source or another in order to be able to ah make that ah break even? Or do we want to improve things, which in case we’re gonna have to invest more? Or are we willing to let things to continue to deteriorate? Which will happen unless ah the investments overall are increased.
JF: Commissioner Johnson, before we move on to Ms. Nicollet, do you want to respond to that?
JJ: Ah – well yeah, I just I I I – when I say we need to actually prioritize, my answer was not that we need to just find efficiencies. Although I agree with the Governor, that we need to do that. But the problem is, we haven’t made this a priority. Ah particularly in the last two years, if you look at ah the bonding bill, I’d love to talk about the Senate Legislative Office Building. We’re spending more on that than what we spent on roads and bridges in the billion-dollar bonding bill. So the priorities have not been there, and we need to actually put this at the top of the list. It’s the only way we’re gonna get it done.
JF: Okay. Thanks for your patience Ms. Nicollet. Ah, onto you.
HN: Okay. Ah, yeah, this is y’know under the Constitution, transportation, one of the, one of the responsibilities of government. And we haven’t been, we haven’t been doing it. And it is truly a public good because not, not taking care of our roads and bridges costs every Minnesotan money – whether it’s extra transportation costs, whether you use the roads or not, because you end up paying for it either directly or indirectly. Or y’know, via emergency services. Regardless, the return on investment for y’know every dollar that you put towards just on a cost/benefit ah basis, every dollar you put towards roads and bridges comes back to you three and four dollars ah each.
And so y’know versus light rail, where you get about forty-two cents on every dollar. So the cost/benefit is is not something that benefits all of Minnesota. Plus it is another instance where the Twin Cities ends up y’know getting the lion’s share. So y’know as far as how our priorities have been, we need to y’know move those. Somehow we managed to find y’know about four billion on y’know Viking stadium and y’know light rail. All of those things that we’ve been throwing money at. And meanwhile, we’ve been neglecting our roads and bridges for a long time. I’ve never seen anything like this and I’ve spent my entire life here. Ah, I’m forty, so y’know I’ve been here quite awhile.
And, and I would like to see us, however we get it done, however we get it done, we need to make it a priority. So, I, first of all, we need to reprioritize. We gotta stop buying toys when we need food, as a state. And, and then after that, ah, if we need to raise gas tax, y’know by a certain number of cents to make y’know to make it happen, we need to make it happen.
JF: Thank you. Next question is on the workforce and jobs in Minnesota. According to Minnesota’s Department of Employment and Economic Development, job creation across the state has been uneven since 2010. With all regions of greater Minnesota lagging behind the metro area. Employers across greater Minnesota, including here in Rochester, say it’s extremely tough to find qualified employees for many types of jobs. And as DMC evolves, ah certainly with thirty-five thousand more jobs projected in this area, there’s a lot of concern about whether people will be here who are trained and ready to step into those jobs.
So here’s the question. An employer-focused job training program that put an emphasis on job training solutions was introduced in the Legislature last year. As Governor, would you support this ten million dollar program? And in what other ways would you address the worker shortage and the shortage of trained workers in greater Minnesota? Big question, but ahh, if you could do your best. Governor Dayton, you’re first, followed by Ms. Nicollet and Commissioner Johnson.
MD: Well Jay, your preamble was its own contradiction. On the one hand, you say that economic growth is not occurring around the state. And then you say to the fact that we don’t have enough workers for the jobs, and we don’t have enough housing for the workers that are – businesses all over the state in greater Minnesota that want to expand and create more jobs, and can’t because of barriers such as lack of housing. DigiKey up in Thief River Falls, and Polaris in Roseau, looking for assistance to increase the housing for the people that they want to hire. Down on the Iowa border, Jackson, right through Luverne, Worthington, can’t expand because of water deficiencies, which the bonding bill is focused on correcting. So y’know I dispute that we don’t have good healthy economic growth going on all over Minnesota, and not uniformly common, but the but y’know very much, very much the same. Uh, kind of moving forward. So, yes, we need to train people for the jobs. I was up on the Range this last week and they were looking for welders and ah engineers and technicians in order to expand. Yes, absolutely we need to realign the training programs, starting with high schools and even junior high schools and get aligned with MnSCU campuses, and train young people for the jobs of the future rather than the jobs of the past. That’s gonna require an investment again, to bring up modern technology and equipment to those facilities. But the payoff is significant and one we should pursue.
JF: So you would support the ten million dollar program?
MD: I I – yes, I I y’know, we’re not sure – the federal government has myriad job training programs. The state has its own on top of that. I’m not sure that there’s a lack of funds right now. So in that respect, the the lack of funding is for the permitting of MnSCU campuses for the equipment, the technology, the building improvements that are necessary. So that the training that does go on is training people for the state-of-the-art jobs that are out there.
JF: Thank you. Ms. Nicollet.
HN: Would you repeat the question with regard to the program, the ten million dollar program?
JF: I’m sorry.
HN: Would you repeat the question with regard to the ten million dollar program –
HN: – being referenced?
JF: There was a program that was introduced at the Legislature last year, ten million dollars that would be used for job training solutions. Um, and so more generally, y’know, what would you do to generate more training programs for workers?
HN: Okay, ah, well, as far as y’know and then you also mentioned economic development in part of that question in the rural areas. And so economic development, the first thing, and as I said, I’d like to get rid of the corporate tax. And I believe that would start more businesses in rural areas as well as in the Twin Cities. That’s ah y’know gonna affect all areas of the state equally.
It also, y’know, we do need to get all areas of the state connected to the internet. That’s another area where rural areas are deficient. Ah, education is also an area. We need to address the achievement gap. We have, we have schools that have ah some major problems that we haven’t addressed. And once again that’s, we could look at y’know, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel, there are areas of the country that are having tremendous success. And we could implement what they have done, provided that we’re willing to innovate. We have to be willing to y’know really make the changes here as a state. And ah not y’know be student focused in our in our policies. So, we attack education, we go after ah y’know the the business taxes that have been prohibitive, get rid of those, and I believe that we would start flourishing.
And of course y’know then as a state, we provide for good infrastructure. So, all of that provided in the rural areas, y’know their connection, education, and ah and we would see, we would see an economic growth in the in the rural areas without a doubt.
JF: Thank you. Commissioner Johnson.
JJ: Ah, well let me first just mention, when the Governor said that economic growth is going gangbusters in Minnesota, it’s not. And we just learned that last week from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is part of the Obama administration. And they, they told us that we are the worst in the Midwest over the last year in job growth rate. The Kauffman Foundation, which is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group, shows that if you look at the last four years, Minnesota has created the fewest number of new businesses in the country per capita. So it’s not just a greater Minnesota issue. It’s an issue all over the state. But, it is particularly problematic in greater Minnesota, and part of that is because we haven’t paid a lot of attention to greater Minnesota these last few years.
And so, number one is infrastructure. Let’s fund roads in greater Minnesota. And let’s work to expand broadband. I think that’s a very important piece. Another piece is just economic development in general, and having a Governor who’s willing to be a cheerleader for greater Minnesota. I was born and raised in Detroit Lakes. My wife’s from Crookston. We went to school in Moorhead. Our roots, our values, our families are all in greater Minnesota, and I think I’m somebody who will be out here a lot cheerleading for greater Minnesota.
And then finally, and here’s a big difference between the Governor and me, we have some opportunities around this state to create great jobs. One of them is mining up in northern Minnesota. That – those are literally hundreds of really good paying jobs up there. They are DESPERATE for those jobs up on the Range. And we’re kinda slow-walking that process. I don’t think PolyMet will open if the Governor is re-elected. I will do everything I can to get it opened if I’m Governor.
JF: Well Governor, I should give you thirty seconds to respond to the last part of that comment.
MD: The Commissioner has decided before the review process is complete that he’s already jumped on one side. He’s all for PolyMet, which may be the final outcome and the proper one, but to jump in at this point with a review process and the environmental impact statement is fairly close to completion. It’s taken too long, no doubt, but to jump in now and throw in whole hog and just say “Well, forget about all the environmental considerations and everything else, so we’re just gonna y’know pander to northern Minnesota, trying to get their jobs,” I think is really irresponsible.
JF: I’ll let the other two candidates respond as well, since mining is now the topic. Go ahead Commissioner.
JJ: Well – yeah, Governor, I didn’t say that we should just ignore the regulatory process. We’ve been through seven years of the regulatory process. They’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars, and what we’ve seen is that they likely can do this in an environmentally friendly way, which is really important. I don’t even think we should make the the review process easier. But I think let’s at least push through it to make sure that it actually happens in a timely and fair way. I think we’re dragging this out so that that we can say after the election, “We’re not gonna open this thing.”
JF: Okay. Ms. Nicollet.
HN: With regard to PolyMet? Are we –
JF: Ah, regarding mining in northeast Minnesota.
HN: Yeah, well, y’know, the last environmental impact study gave it a rating on par with the Greenline. And so y’know, so we’re at a point where we could go ahead. My only concern is that we’ve had some instances where y’know mines have declared bankruptcy after the fact, because there are a lot of costs involved on the on the latter end. Y’know it takes about two hundred million dollars to close the mine, six to seven million after. Provided that that money is set aside and we know that it’s available. Ah, and it’s not going to be abandoned, then then absolutely, we need it for economic growth up there.
JF: Okay. Thank you. That’s it for questions, long form questions. Now each candidate gets two minutes for a closing statement. Again, we cut cards to determine who goes first. The cards are still right here in fact. And we have a little time for Texas HoldEm later perhaps –
JF: — if anyone’s interested. Hannah Nicollet won the cut and goes first with a closing statement followed by Commissioner Johnson and Governor Dayton.
HN: All right, well I want to really thank the debate moderators and the people who held this held this debate for for having me. I I appreciate that because this is the only debate that I’ve been confirmed to participate in. So ah so I sincerely I sincerely thank you for that. And I also want to make a y’know, why, I should probably introduce myself. I’m a mom of two kids. My three-year-old and seven-year-old are over here. My husband is over here. And I’m a former software developer. And people probably wonder, “What in the world does that have to do with being Governor?” Well, I love to solve problems. And ah, and just personally, I love to build teams. So my Lieutenant Governor candidate is by far the best. I encourage you to look into him. He wrote the book “Eco-Commerce 101,” where he presented a new model for developing ag and environmental policy.
Why does that matter? Because I believe in team building. That’s why we’re all working. From the Independence Party, we’re all working as a team together. And that’s how we would like to solve problems as a state. So why, ah, why Minnesota? I love my state. And I would love to – this is absolutely my dream job. I would rather be Governor of Minnesota than President of the United States. And ah, and as such, I think that we can we can work together much better than with the special interests. I believe the Independence Party needs a voice in Minnesota because we represent the people. We truly do.
Y’know, where when sixty-eight percent of the people said that they wanted the Viking stadium entirely privately funded, what about ‘entirely privately funded’ do legislators not understand? And when they can’t get it passed via referendum, then they have backroom deals. And when they had, y’know, if they were, y’know if you have more than four people in a meeting, then you’re subject to open meeting laws. So they only had four people at a meeting. And when the press came to ask what they were doing, they said they were talking about fishing regulations. All to give us what we didn’t want.
And so if you have, you shouldn’t need a high-paid lobbyist – whether you’re a child and you need child protection, you’re being abused, you shouldn’t need a high-paid lobbyist to represent you at the Capitol. In my administration, you wouldn’t. (finishes statement, then adds) Thank you!
(Audience laughter , applause)
JF: (laughs) Thank you. Thanks very much.
JF: (to applauding audience) Okay, we can do that after closing statements if you want to do that. (audience laughs) Commissioner Johnson, you’re next.
JJ: All right, well thank you Jay, and thank you again to the hosts and for all of you for being here. And I I have to admit, I am really pleased that we’re finally having this first debate, because I’ll be honest with you, it’s been a little frustrating the last couple months to watch some of the mistruths, some of the lies, Governor, that you and some of your supporters have had on TV about me for the last couple of months. Whether it is that I’ll cut the minimum wage. I’ve never said that. Whether that I cut education funding. I never did, in fact I voted three times in each of the budgets to increase education funding. So it’s nice to be here and actually share our visions directly to people and let them choose on their own.
And let me tell you what my vision is. Because I’m sharing it all over the state of Minnesota. It’s a vision of a state where every kid in the state has access to a great education and to great teachers, regardless of where that kid lives, or how rich or poor his or her parents are. And where patients and doctors are making healthcare decisions. Not insurance companies. Certainly not government bureaucrats. It’s a state where politicians understand that we in the middle class work really really hard for our money, and they spend it as carefully as though it’s coming out of their own pockets. We’re certainly not seeing that right now. It’s a state where entrepreneurs actually want to start a business in Minnesota, and where our existing businesses actually want to expand here. And ah where every Minnesotan who’s willing to work hard and follow the rules has access to a good-paying full-time job.
And most importantly, I have a vision of a state where we have ended this bitterness and envy over income differences, and this belief that the poor are poor and the rich are rich and all we can do is just move around the money. And instead we are celebrating people who are successful. And we are never, ever EVER giving up on people who are poor. And we are preaching every single day a sincerely held belief that the poor can become the middle class, and the middle class can become rich, and ANYONE who starts with nothing can still achieve anything in this state. That’s my vision for Minnesota, and that’s why I’m running for Governor. Thank you for being here and I’d love your support.
(Audience cheers and applause)
JF: Thank you Commissioner Johnson. Governor Dayton.
MD: I would just say, parenthetically, Ms. Nicollet, I think you should – I don’t know who decides who’s in the debates, but I think you should be in the other debates. I think it’s well established that the Independence Party is one of the major parties in the state, and ah Mr. Horner participated in all of our debates four years ago. And I think you should be afforded the same opportunity.
Going back to the question at hand – y’know I was born and raised in Minnesota. And obviously the state’s been very very good to my family and to myself. I started running for Governor in 2009 because I was convinced the state was heading in the wrong direction. And we had, even in the midst of the national recession, the economic slump in Minnesota was greater than most other states. The tax system was regressive. And was not generating enough revenues to meet the needs of our public education system from early childhood all the way through higher education.
When I came in in January of 2011, we were in a fiscal mess. Looking at a six billion dollar budget deficit for the next two years. We owed our schools two point eight billion dollars. Along with a Republican majority in the Minnesota Legislature and myself, we cut two billion dollars of spending, permanent cuts in the state expenditures, and we paid off the school debts over time, we raised taxes only on the wealthiest two percent in income taxes, and in fact two million Minnesota middle-income taxpayers received an income tax cut in the last legislative session when we went through (unclear) federal conformity. We invested that money in education, which in Minnesota had been slacking relative to other states and relative to the needs. We instituted early childhood education, all-day kindergarten, two of the most critical ways we can address the disparity gap and the achievement gap and the ability of schools and the society to help young people from the area of birth until they enter the society as productive adults and citizens. That’s the vision I have for the future of this state and that’s the one that I wish to continue as Governor.
(Audience applause and cheers)
JF: Thank you. Okay, thank you Governor. We’re done! And we did a great job. We wrapped up before the satellite moved on. So I appreciate the audience ah control. Ah, on behalf of the debate sponsors, we appreciate your efforts. We wish you the best as the campaign goes forward. We like to think this is going to be the best of the five debates.
JF: Ah, best wishes for an informative and a respectful campaign. And to the audience and viewers, Election Day is November Fourth, but you can already vote right now. However you choose to do it, make your voice heard. Thank you. Good night.
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