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Dayton says vetoes stopped large tax increases in Duluth

Gov. Mark Dayton took his veto message across the state Thursday, continuing to hammer the Republican-controlled Legislature as unwilling to compromise to solve the state's budget shortfall.

Gov. Mark Dayton
Gov. Mark Dayton (center) talks to Kay Oling (left), an adaptive physical education teacher, and Duluth Federation of Teachers President Frank Wanner before Thursday's news conference at the Duluth International Airport. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
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Gov. Mark Dayton took his veto message across the state Thursday, continuing to hammer the Republican-controlled Legislature as unwilling to compromise to solve the state's budget shortfall.

Meanwhile, the state Republican Party unveiled a new website that already blames Dayton for any government shutdown that might occur. Party officials say the website daytonshutdown.com "chronicles the devolution of the governor's political strategy into a personal obsession with shutting down government to prove a point rather than engage in policy discussions with legislators."

At stops in Duluth, Mankato, Moorhead and Austin, DFLer Dayton defended his veto of nine major Republican budget bills, saying they cut too much meat out of state-run programs and aid to local governments -- especially Duluth.

Dayton has instead insisted on raising income taxes on the wealthiest 2 percent of Minnesotans to help cushion the budget blow. Republicans have refused. And that sets the state down the road to a government shutdown on July 1 when the state's current budget runs out.

"I'm asking Minnesotans to make their voices heard on this. And I'm asking (Republican lawmakers) to come up with a solution rather than a shutdown," Dayton said at a news conference Thursday afternoon at Duluth International Airport.

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Dayton joined DFL lawmakers Thursday in saying the Republican budget bills would have cut state aid to the city of Duluth by $14 million annually with another $902,000 in aid to the Duluth school district eliminated. That would have raised property taxes 5 percent statewide but 15 percent on a homesteaded house in Duluth, DFLers said, because the Republican plan targeted aid to DFL hotspots such as Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth.

Dayton said he will never sign a budget bill unless "every city gets treated the same," calling the impact on Duluth homeowners and businesses "catastrophic."

Other budget bills vetoed would have cut state money for Duluth's two hospitals by about $26 million annually, said Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, adding that the proposed 19 percent cut to the University of Minnesota system would have killed UMD's family practice physician program.

The governor has reduced his proposed income tax increase twice in recent months but the two sides still are about $1.8 billion apart. Both sides say they want to avoid a shutdown and say they hope budget negotiations in coming days could lead to a special session in June and a compromise budget. But neither side appears willing to back down.

"I've moved twice. ... We're all waiting here in the middle for them to show up," Dayton said.

Dayton "has made shutting down the government and spanking Republican legislators a higher priority than the welfare of the people of Minnesota," Republican Party Chairman Tony Sutton said in a statement.

Republican leaders continue to say they are united in their stand against raising any tax despite Dayton's comments earlier in the week that top Republican lawmakers appeared willing to compromise while newly elected Republican lawmakers "seemingly understand little about government and care even less."

Dayton's tax plan has the support of the left-leaning Alliance for a Better Minnesota, which this week launched a $1 million television advertising campaign urging Minnesotans to back the governor's plan to tax the wealthy.

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Dayton dropped his original budget of $39 billion to $35.8 billion, but Republicans are demanding the state spend no more than $34 billion over the next two years.

The governor is proposing a new tax bracket of 10.95 percent for higher-income residents, up from the current top rate of 7.85 percent. The new bracket would apply to joint filers who claim $300,000 per year in gross earnings; $180,000 for single filers. Those are the top 2 percent of wage earners statewide, about 891 people in St. Louis County.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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