With long-term shortages in state tax revenue looming, DFL candidates for governor Monday advocated government support of programs to boost employment and income and described the approach as their best strategy to win.

"I think the message is 'jobs, jobs, jobs,'" said Sen. Tom Bakk of Cook.

"It's also got to be 'education, education, education,'" said Rep. Tom Rukavina of Virginia.

Borrowing money to build public projects, retraining workers and providing government support for business loans were some of the ideas for creating and salvaging jobs advanced by the candidates at a debate at Macalester College.

Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner pressed for retraining unemployed or underemployed workers. Rep. Paul Thissen of Minneapolis suggested diverting existing tax breaks for businesses to support business loans.

Former Sen. Steve Kelley of Hopkins promised that he wouldn't lay off public employees to close a $1.2 billion state budget deficit.

Former Rep. Matt Entenza of St. Paul said Minnesota should strive to become "the Silicon Valley of clean energy" by supporting alternative sources of power that would foster job growth.

While not always specific, the candidates generally agreed that some type of tax increase should be considered to bridge budget gaps. "We're going to have to raise taxes," said Sen. John Marty of Roseville. "We cannot cut our way out."

Ten of the 11 DFL gubernatorial candidates attended the debate. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak did not attend; his City Council was adopting its new budget.

The forum was sponsored by local DFL organizations and did not include seven Republicans running for governor. But with DFL candidates mostly in agreement on main issues, much of the evening was spent targeting Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty's policies and labeling him an absentee office-holder more interested in exploring a run for president. At one point, former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton dubbed Pawlenty "the former governor."

Still, many of the DFL ideas for job creation or improved public education lacked specific details on how they would be accomplished.

In addition to meat-and-potatoes issues, the candidates talked about the tree-killing emerald ash borer and invasive species in Minnesota waters. Bakk said it may have been a mistake for Minnesota to have boat launches on all lakes, and said he would consider a bill to place a moratorium on more launches to avoid contaminating more waters.

"We probably shouldn't open up more lakes to public access," he said, noting "that will be incredibly controversial."

Pat Doyle • 651-222-1210