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Minnesota governor hopefuls debate at Duluth forum

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Don Davis/State Capitol Bureau Tom Horner announces his state budget proposal Monday, including adding the sales tax to clothing and allowing casinos at the state's two horse-racing tracks. He is the Independence Party governor candidate.3 / 3

DULUTH -- It might seem hard, at first glance, for Minnesota's three major candidates for governor to stand out from the pack: All three have graying hair, all three wear dark suits and all three are white men over 50.

But Republican Tom Emmer, DFLer Mark Dayton and Independence Party candidate Tom Horner did their best Tuesday morning to pull their personalities and policy above the fray at a debate sponsored by the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce.

The state's looming fiscal crisis for 20011-2012 took center stage at the Duluth Playhouse, with fiscal analysts predicting at least a $6 billion shortfall for a $38 billion budget if cuts in projected spending, or increased revenues and taxes, are not approved by the next governor and Legislature.

The candidates spent much of their stump time pushing their plans, and criticizing their opponent's plans, to solve the shortfall.

Horner is banking on a combination of spending cuts and expanding the state sales tax to clothing and some services. Dayton is calling for restoring higher income tax rates for the wealthiest 20 percent of Minnesotans, those earning more than $152,000 per couple. Those rates were cut a decade ago. Emmer said he would cut taxes and reduce spending where possible to make sure the state lives within its means.

All three also said creating jobs, or growing the economy, is the biggest, most critical issue facing the state, noting more workers earning paychecks and paying taxes not only helps families but also keeps money flowing to the state for public services.

Emmer said the best way to grow jobs is for government to get out of the way.

"I've never seen government invest our money better than we can," Emmer said. "Government's role is to get out of the way. ... More government is actually suppressing the entrepreneurial spirit."