Gubernatorial candidates talk ways to boost bioscience

  • Article by: PAT DOYLE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 20, 2010 - 9:17 PM

GOP candidates favor less regulation as a catalyst to the industry, while DFLers called for more investment at a forum Tuesday at the Minnesota History Center.

Five gubernatorial candidates offered their prescriptions Tuesday for creating a healthier climate for Minnesota's biotech industry that included lower taxes, higher government spending, and faith in science over ideology.

"Government's got to get out of the way," said Republican Rep. Marty Seifert, echoing a theme sounded by fellow GOP candidate Rep. Tom Emmer. Both called for lower taxes and less regulation.

But DFL Reps. Tom Rukavina and Paul Thissen said government needs to spend more on education, from preschool to college, to provide a workforce for high-tech jobs.

"We need to actually invest some money to do it," Thissen said.

The four joined Independence Party candidate Tom Horner at a candidates forum at the Minnesota History Center Tuesday morning, hosted by leaders of the state's bioscience industry.

Four others DFLers invited to the forum -- former House Minority Leader Matt Entenza, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak -- did not attend. DFL candidates have been busy this week wooing delegates for their party's endorsing convention, to be held this weekend in Duluth.

Cutting a middle path in the debate, Horner called for reducing some taxes and raising others, and warned that eliminating the state deficit solely through budget cuts would be "dumb."

"The public policies are driving a generation that will be less healthy, poorer and less educated than their parents, for the first time in Minnesota," Horner said.

Horner and Thissen also said that too much of the state's public policy on science is driven by ideological concerns. After the forum, they said that resistance over the years to state funding for embryonic stem cell research had discouraged investment in biotechnology and left Minnesota's industry trailing that of Wisconsin. The Legislature passed a measure to allow such funding two years ago, but Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed the bill.

Emmer called the complaint a red herring, adding that the University of Minnesota funds ample research on nonembryonic cells. He advocated higher credits for biotech firms and less regulation, which he said would allow "businesses to start, grow and thrive."

Rukavina talked up more money for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System (MnSCU) and the University of Minnesota.

"The U is sliding because we've been taking money away from them," Rukavina said, referring to recent budget cuts. "You can't have a vibrant economy when you are not investing in higher education."

Seifert attributed some of higher education's fiscal problems to a system that spends too much on administration and too little on teaching, describing a bloated bureaucracy at MnSCU. "We're going to have to put the dollars where the instruction takes place," he said.

Horner's middle ground on spending and taxes prompted Rukavina at one point to remark, "You sound half the time like you're Emmer, you sound half the time like you're me."

Pat Doyle • 651-222-1210

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