ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The battle over the state budget in Minnesota echoes those under way in Washington and in other state capitals, as Republicans still energized from gains in 2010 focus on cutting spending and refuse to consider tax increases of any kind.
New GOP governors such as New Jersey's Chris Christie and Florida's Rick Scott have made deep cuts in state programs and employee benefits, while even some of Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton's fellow Democratic governors, such as New York's Andrew M. Cuomo, have eschewed tax hikes amid a fragile economic recovery.
The soft-spoken Dayton refuses to cave to the GOP's stance that higher taxes are verboten. Since taking office, he has championed tax hikes on rich Minnesotans -- or at least some form of new state revenue -- as necessary to closing the state's $5-billion budget deficit.
Dayton's great-grandfather founded a Minneapolis-based dry goods store and, along with family members, built it into the department store chain that's now Target Corp. The Dayton family no longer controls the company, but it left Mark Dayton a wealthy man who's spent large chunks of his fortune on a quirky political career that took him to the U.S. Senate (he quit after one term) and now, at 64, to the state's top political office.
"I don't underestimate his resolve," said Doug Magnus, a Republican state senator and a farmer from the state's southwest corner. "Other people around the table, including the Republicans, have political things in mind. I believe the governor feels he has one term to do what he thinks is the right thing to do, and he's going to do it."
Last week, President Barack Obama echoed Dayton when he called for upper-bracket income tax increases as a means of shrinking the country's debt. Obama even used a term Dayton has repeated like a mantra: A "balanced approach" to describe a mix of tax increases and spending cuts they both have said is the surest way to restore stability to government budgeting.
"I do think Democrats around the country are looking for models of courage and strong leaders they can use as a model," said Jeff Blodgett, a longtime friend who was an adviser to one of Dayton's closest allies, the late Sen. Paul Wellstone. "He isn't afraid to be honest and direct about his principles."