Republican candidate for governor Marty Seifert suggested Friday that a portion of Minnesota's budget reserves, typically accumulated to protect against economic downturns, should be used to boost state spending on road construction.
Seifert held a Capitol press conference to lay out what he called "Priorities for Minnesota Families." He said as governor, he would push the Legislature to shield Minnesota senior citizens from paying social security taxes on earned benefits; and seek an infusion of state money to build new roads and repair crumbling ones.
Earlier this year, Gov. Mark Dayton and lawmakers increased the budget reserve to $811 million. Seifert said $500 million should suffice, and that the rest could be spent on roads. Seifert said he'd also seek to cancel planned light rail construction, and trim non-construction spending at the Department of Transportation, to find more money for roads. He said he would not support a gas tax increase or other new revenue streams for transportation.
Seifert, a former House minority leader from Marshall, is one of four contenders in Tuesday's GOP primary for governor. The winner will take on Dayton in November.
REDWOOD FALLS, Minn. -- DFL Gov. Mark Dayton on Thursday called his Republican rivals "highly irresponsible" for pledging to re-open an Iron Range mine before an environmental study is done.
Republicans are "just pandering to people up there," Dayton told reporters. "They’re like a lot of other hucksters who have gone up there saying they have jobs to offer, so vote for us."
Dayton, who is seeking re-election, said he will wait until after an environmental impact assessment is completed before he takes a stand.
"I think that's the responsibility I have as governor," Dayton said before giving a short address at the annual FarmFest trade show here.
Earlier this week, Dayton’s GOP rivals said they would give a green light to the PolyMet mine being planned near Hoyt Lakes.
The controversial, $650 million proposal would reopen the abandoned LTV steel facility there, but use it to mine the Duluth Complex, one of the world’s largest undeveloped deposits of copper, nickel and precious metals.
The project has raised the ire of environmentalists, who say the project could degrade ecologically fragile lands and result in long-lasting pollution of nearby rivers and even Lake Superior.
The mine is projected to create 360 jobs. An environmental study by the state Department of Natural Resources is underway, with a report due later this year
Dayton’s remarks come less than a week before a primary that will determine which candidate Republicans will choose to face Dayton in the November election.
As construction workers milled at the site of a new state Senate office building by the Capitol, GOP candidate for governor Jeff Johnson held a press conference off to the side to renew his frequent criticism of the project.
Johnson and three other Republicans are in the final sprint toward Tuesday's primary election, where the party will pick its opponent for DFL Gov. Mark Dayton. Around the same time Johnson criticized the office building as wasteful and tried to link it to Dayton, he drew a rebuke over taxes from GOP opponent Kurt Zellers.
"Jeff Johnson is carrying the same tired ideas that Mark Dayton tried to force on Minnesotans just last year," read a press release from Zellers, the former House speaker. It's a reference to a May 2013 interview in MinnPost where Johnson expressed support for lowering the overall sales tax rate but shrinking the number of products and services exempt from it. That's similar to a tax reform proposal from Dayton in early 2013 that he later abandoned.
Johnson cited his strong rating from the Minnesota Taxpayers League and his record on the Hennepin County Board as evidence for his opposition to tax increases. He said he would seek to cut taxes as governor, and would veto any tax increase from the Legislature.
"Kurt's probably recognized that he's a ways behind and needs to go on the attack," said Johnson, whose endorsement from the state GOP has contributed to a view among many Republicans that he has a slight edge heading toward Tuesday's vote. The other two contenders are Scott Honour, a businessman and political newcomer, and Marty Seifert, the former House minority leader.
Johnson said he preferred to focus his criticism on Dayton, not fellow Republicans. It was Johnson's second press conference at the site of the new Capitol office building in less than six weeks. He called the project, being built with $77 million in taxpayer funds, "symbolic of Dayton's priorities."
The Minnesota DFL noted that several prominent Republican lawmakers, Sen. Dave Senjem and Rep. Matt Dean, were involved in the official process around moving the project forward, and voted in favor of hiring an architect and construction company.
Dean, in response to the DFL criticism, said while he did serve on the appointed panel that signed off on hiring an architect and contractor, that he has repeatedly stated his larger opposition to proceeding with the building . He said he didn't feel the state should specifically penalize architects or contractors for a project that had already been approved.
Johnson said if he were to become governor, he would seek to cancel construction if it's not too far along. If the state has already invested tens of millions, he said, he would try to re-purpose the building for some other state use besides the Senate.
The Honour campaign also took its turn criticizing the office building. The campaign released a video of his running mate, state Sen. Karin Housley, holding up a series of signs mocking the project.
Minnesota's Management and Budget office announced Tuesday that it completed a $85.4 million bond sale to fund construction of a new office building for state senators next to the Capitol.
The state Department of Administration announced shortly after that preliminary work would start at the site on Wednesday. That could include asphalt, tree and curb removal; installation of barriers, fences and partitions; and heavy equipment delivery.
Plans call for the building to be ready for senators to move in prior to the 2016 legislative session. Planners of the roughly $90 million project, to which taxpayers are contributing about $77 million, say it will both ease crowding concerns during the ongoing, massive renovation of the Capitol building; and provide needed long-term space for state senators and their employees.
The project has become a frequent target of criticism by Republican politicians, who have called it unneeded, and tried to wield it politically against Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative Democrats.
The head of the one of the most powerful Democratic groups in Minnesota will move to one of the most powerful unions in the state.
Carrie Lucking, who has been executive director of the Alliance for a Better Minnesota since 2011, will become Education Minnesota's director of policy, research and outreach.
"I absolutely loved it here and it was a really difficult decision to go," Lucking, a former teacher, said.
But both the Alliance and Education Minnesota have been heavily involved in politics -- and each other. Education Minnesota spent nearly $5 million on political causes since 2008.
The Alliance, which has spent more than $10 million since 2007, has supported Democrats in their election quests. The Alliances' funders received much of their money from Education Minnesota and other unions, the Democratic Governor's Association and Alida Messinger, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's ex-wife.
Since 2010 Education Minnesota has given at least $660,000 to Alliance's funders and Messinger has donated more than $2 million.
But Lucking said her new job, which will start in September, will not be directly involved in politics and political spending.
"I’ve been living and dying by the election cycling for ten years," she said. "It turns out that’s a long time."
Lucking said the Alliance will be bringing on an extra set of hands to help out during the election and naming a new interim director soon.
Lucking is married to Bob Hume, Gov. Mark Dayton's communications chief.
She said getting distance between their two jobs -- hers at the Alliance in independent political spending -- and his working for a governor the Alliance supports was not one of her considerations in taking the new job.
At home, the couple, who had their first child this year, largely talks about the things all new parents discuss, she said -- food, the baby's inputs and outputs and other domestic affairs.
Updated with contributions from Glenn Howatt
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