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Published February 16, 2011, 04:39 PM

Both Sides Dig in Over Dayton's Budget Proposal

Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative Republicans fought over taxes and spending on Wednesday, engaging in a public relations campaign across the state as the governor's day-old budget started its journey through the legislative process.

By: Associated Press,

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative Republicans fought over taxes and spending on Wednesday, engaging in a public relations campaign across the state as the governor's day-old budget started its journey through the legislative process.

The Democratic governor and GOP legislative leaders visited Duluth, Rochester, Moorhead and Mankato hours apart as they focused on Dayton's plan to close about half a $6.2 billion budget gap by raising income taxes on those who earn the most.

The proposal was already setting the tone of a budget debate that is expected to stretch at least until the Legislature's constitutional adjournment deadline of May 23. Even though GOP leaders gave Dayton's tax plans little chance of passage, they were eager to mobilize anti-tax opposition.

"It seems like the governor is looking at Minnesota as an island with this budget and an island he will be creating with this budget. Unfortunately it will be a deserted island," said Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan, during a House Taxes Committee hearing.

The proposal includes a new 10.95 percent tax bracket that would start at $85,000 in taxable income for single filers or $150,000 for married couples filing jointly. There is also a temporary 3 percent surtax on taxable incomes above $500,000, which would last three years. The higher taxes would affect 138,000 taxpayers.

Republicans contend the taxes would drive businesses out of the state, hurting the economy.

"That's not a speed bump — that's a blockade to job providers," said House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, at the Holman Field airport in St. Paul.

Senate Taxes Committee Chairwoman Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, said the taxes would reach into the middle class.

"The governor has said this would be a tax on the wealthy, and I wouldn't include folks at $85,000 or 150,000 joint income as wealthy," she said.

Dayton appeared with local officials to highlight his goal of heading off future property tax increases by holding state aid to local governments steady. The Duluth News Tribune reported that Cloquet Mayor Bruce Ahlgren and Duluth City Council President Sharla Gardner appeared with Dayton in Duluth to say his plan would help their cities avoid service cuts and property tax increases.

Dayton was scheduled to hold a news conference later Wednesday in St. Paul.

Meanwhile, several hundred snowplow drivers, teachers, nurses and other unionized workers filled the Capitol rotunda, chanting "Tax the rich" in a show of support for Dayton's plan.

"If only the rich would get a grip that the little bit he's asking will go a monster long way in fixing our economy that they messed up," said Russ Jones, an unemployed floor layer from Anoka, drawing claps and cheers.

Dayton Chief of Staff Tina Smith worked to build support for Dayton's proposal at the rally.

"All the governor has asked is that those folks who are doing the best, those folks who were making a lot of money right now — and good for them, that's great — all he's asking is that they pay the same share of their income as everybody else in this room," she told the crowd.

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