The Associated Press invited Gov. Mark Dayton and his GOP challenger, Republican Jeff Johnson, to respond to several questions ahead of next month's election. Here are their verbatim answers.
1. What is the state's biggest challenge and how would you deal with it?
JOHNSON: We all want our kids to have a better and more prosperous life than our own. For generations, Minnesotans have met that obligation to their children, and I am committed to helping this generation of leaders meet it again. I meet people every day who are worried that their kids might not do as well as they have. My focus as governor will be to prepare our kids to succeed in today's economy, and to prepare our economy to create the good jobs our kids need.
DAYTON: Our biggest challenge is to continue building "A Better Minnesota" by providing good jobs and good educations for all Minnesotans. To succeed, we must: No. 1, ensure that every child has the opportunity to succeed. I will support additional investments in early childhood education. Two years ago, we funded early learning scholarships and all-day kindergarten. If re-elected, I promise to again boost state support for our public schools. No. 2, better align our workforce training with businesses' needs. We must ensure that our colleges, universities, and job training programs educating and training workers for the jobs of the future. To begin this process, in December, I will host a series of Regional Economic Growth Summits, to ask businesses in the region about their future employment needs and to discuss how the state's higher education institutions can better fill those needs.
1. What are the first three pieces of legislation your administration would make a priority?
JOHNSON: First, I will seek to tighten the laws regarding sex offender sentencing, making it much harder for serial sex offenders to be released. Second, I will institute an audit of all state government programs to ensure that they are both being run well, and accomplishing their designed goals. And third, I will restructure the MNsure health exchange board by firing the current political crew and replacing them with people who actually understand that more competition and choice will benefit consumers.
DAYTON: First, I will propose expanding the Child and Dependent Care tax credit to help Minnesota families better afford the rising costs of caring for their children, while they are working. Second, I will expand early childhood learning programs, so that more children can gain the lifelong benefits of those educations. Third, I will make a comprehensive proposal to repair and improve our highways, roads, bridges, and public transit networks.
1. If Minnesota's next budget forecast shows a significant surplus, where would you put the money and why? If it shows a large deficit, how would you resolve it?
JOHNSON: Minnesota's budget roller coaster is caused by a tax code that is costly, complicated, and out of date. It is time to end the boom and bust cycle of budget surpluses and deficits and put in place a fairer tax code that is simpler, flatter, and has lower rates. The cycle of deficits and surpluses is bad for our economy, bad for taxpayers, and undermines the delivery of government services.
DAYTON: Under a new law passed last spring, one-third of any additional budget surplus must be added to the state's Budgeted Reserve, to help protect our financial security. The remaining surplus should be allocated to middle-class tax relief and education. Strong investment in education is closely connected with good jobs and economic growth. It is also closely connected with our citizens' health and well-being. Every additional dollar we spend on education should be directed toward improving quality, expanding opportunity, and providing world-class learning. The dependent care tax credit, which I proposed expanding last spring, would help 130,000 more families to afford the rising costs of quality child care and would put more money in the pockets of middle-income families. After years of billion dollar deficits marked by accounting shifts and gimmicks, we have restored the state's fiscal integrity by repaying all of the $2.8 billion owed to Minnesota schools, eliminating other shifts, and adding to the reserve for the first time since 2001. They will help protect Minnesota's budget during any future national economic downturns.
1. How should Minnesota's law on sex offender civil commitment be changed?
JOHNSON: Dangerous sex offenders don't belong on the streets, period. You can be sure that I will not be fighting the Attorney General to free a serial rapist from custody as Governor Dayton has. Minnesota's program for the civil commitment of dangerous sex offenders has passed constitutional review in the past, and I will show the leadership that Governor Dayton has lacked to work with state legislators of both parties to ensure that it will continue to serve its purpose of protecting the public from dangerous predators. Above all, this will not be a partisan issue when I am governor.
DAYTON: Personally, I believe that the people who committed these terrible acts should be kept secured and away from Minnesotans for the rest of their lives. However, a federal judge has made it clear that changes, which legislators from both political parties have put off for almost two decades, will need to be made very soon. In 2013, I convened a task force led by the former Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, Eric Magnuson, to review existing laws and procedures regarding sex offenders, and I supported bipartisan legislation that passed the Minnesota Senate. Unfortunately, House Republicans opposed any changes. The House Republican Caucus also rejected my efforts to bring all four legislative caucuses together to forge an agreement before the 2014 session. This kind of bi-partisan effort will be required to make any substantive changes in 2015.
1. What specific proposals do you have to catch up on Minnesota's backlog of road, bridge and other transportation infrastructure work?
JOHNSON: Over the past few years, Governor Dayton has chosen to invest in just about everything but basic transportation infrastructure. We have spent billions of dollars on trains, trollies, bike paths, and sidewalks, but not nearly enough on the basic infrastructure most Minnesotans use every day: our roads and bridges. Governor Dayton passed the largest tax increase in Minnesota history, but can't find enough money to fill the potholes. As governor I will focus our infrastructure spending where it belongs: on our roads and bridges. I will actually prioritize transportation and work to make roads and bridges a much larger portion of the bonding bill.
DAYTON: The future of transportation in Minnesota and the funding for it have to be among the 2015 legislative session's top priorities. Whatever is decided - whether to do nothing, a little, or enough - will have an enormous impact on the lives of all Minnesotans for decades. Transportation experts tell us that there is a $6 billion gap between expected state and federal revenues over the next ten years and what is needed just to maintain our state's highways, roads, bridges, and public transit systems in their present conditions. Without additional revenues, traffic will become more congested, roads and bridges will become more dilapidated and unsafe, and it will take longer for people to get to work and products to market. MnDOT Commissioner Charlie Zelle and I have outlined one possible combination of funds, which could nearly raise the $6 billion in additional revenues needed over the next 10 years to maintain, expand, and improve our state's transportation systems. Commissioner Zelle has also brought his business expertise to save money on existing projects and administrative expenses. Finding new efficiencies will be his top priority. No one should be fooled, however, into believing that presently expected funds could be stretched or "priorities reordered" to prevent the continued deterioration of highways, roads, bridges, and public transit throughout our state. Minnesotans must ask themselves: Can we better afford to improve our transportation systems, or to let them become even worse?
1. How should Minnesota voting and election law be changed, if at all?
JOHNSON: As governor, I will continue the tradition of requiring bipartisan legislative support for changes in Minnesota's election laws.
DAYTON: I have strongly supported, and will continue to advocate, increased disclosure of campaign financing. The US Supreme Court has ruled that corporations and special interest committees, in addition to people, have the right to contribute money to elect and to defeat candidates for public office. However, that does not mean they should be able to hide the sources or amounts of those payments. Minnesotans have the right to know who is trying to influence the outcome of our elections and how much money they are spending to do so.
1. In general, are Minnesota's subsidized health and welfare programs too generous, too limited or about right? Explain.
JOHNSON: I think this is the wrong question. Instead, I would ask: which programs work, and which don't work to make people's lives better. There are thousands of grant programs that go unmeasured and unaudited, and billions of dollars are spent without any accounting of whether they are meeting the goals that we have set. I believe the only way to answer the question is to do a top to bottom audit to find out what works, what doesn't, and how we can do better.
DAYTON: I believe government has an obligation to help society's most vulnerable citizens. That's why, in my first act as Governor, I signed an Executive Order that gave thousands more Minnesotans access to affordable health care. MNsure has helped enroll an additional 350,000 Minnesotans in affordable health coverage, which has already reduced the percentage of our citizens without health insurance by 40 percent. While we have expanded health coverage for thousands of Minnesotans, my Administration has also saved state and federal taxpayers over $1 billion by requiring competitive bidding for the state's managed care contracts. As Governor, I would continue to examine how we can best help the poor, the elderly, and at-risk Minnesotans, while finding new efficiencies that save taxpayers money.
1. Where should the governor's next trade mission go, and why?
JOHNSON: There are many great trade opportunities, especially in Asia and Eastern Europe. But my greater focus will be to bring back businesses and entrepreneurs from the states that have been stealing ours for the past few years_states like Texas, North and South Dakota, and Wisconsin. Minnesota has some of the best and smartest workers in the world. We are a world-leading exporter of goods and services. With a more inviting business climate, our state can and will be the No. 1 destination for job creators.
DAYTON: In today's competitive global economy, Minnesota needs to aggressively market our products, businesses, and the unmatched quality of our highly skilled workforce on the international market. That is why I set an aggressive goal for Minnesota to double its annual exports by 2017. Thanks in part to the four new international trade offices we have established in China, South Korea, Germany, and Brazil - and by redoubling our efforts to help Minnesota business owners secure trade contracts and more effectively navigate red tape in overseas markets - Minnesota is well on its way to achieving that important goal. In fact, between 2010 and 2013, Minnesota's total annual exports have grown by over 20 percent (from $17.2 billion to $20.7 billion). Our farmers deserve great credit for this increase, as their quality products become the favorites of people throughout the world. A Governor has an important role in helping the state's exporting businesses to find and develop new trade opportunities in foreign markets. Since China is our nation's second-largest trading partner and has become a major purchaser of our state's agriculture production, I would probably lead my next trade mission to that country, if I am re-elected and after the next legislative session.
1. If elected or re-elected, will you open your meeting calendar to public inspection? Why or why not?
JOHNSON: I strongly believe in government transparency. Without a strong and specific reason to keep something secret (e.g. sensitive negotiations), I can imagine no circumstances where I would not open my meeting calendar to the public.
DAYTON: Every day for the last four years, I have released my public schedule - informing the press and public of my activities as Governor on their behalf. Minnesotans elected me to work for them. They deserve to know what I am doing to build a better state for all of our citizens.
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