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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published January 04 2011

Dayton calls for teamwork, higher taxes for rich

ST. PAUL – Mark Dayton’s first speech as Minnesota governor illustrated the problems he faces.

While calling for teamwork to solve the state’s problems, the new governor on Monday also insisted that the rich need to pay higher taxes, something Republicans who take control of the state Legislature today strongly oppose.

Dayton offered no specifics in his inaugural speech, delivered to a packed Democrat-heavy crowd at St. Paul’s Landmark Center, after taking the oath of office to become Minnesota’s 40th governor.

He served notice that he will not back down from a campaign promise to raise taxes on the state’s richest residents.

“I will insist that any final solution make Minnesota’s overall tax burden more progressive, not more regressive,” he said.

Dayton said he understands that everyone would like to pay lower taxes, but it is “essential that everyone paying taxes knows everyone else is paying their fair share.”

If he can get those higher taxes for some, Dayton promised to make sure that tax dollars will fund a more efficient government.

Dayton’s inaugural speech contained no specifics, but the theme was “working together.” He used a variation of that phrase about a dozen times.

Monday’s inaugural and today’s opening of the legislative session set up the first time in four decades Republicans will control both the House and Senate, and the first time in two decades a Democrat is in the governor’s office.

Dayton took the oath from Chief Justice Lorie Gildea.

After the inaugural event, attended by 600, Dayton and new Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon spent more than two hours visiting, shaking hands and signing autographs during a Capitol open house that attracted hundreds.

In his speech, he asked every business to adopt a school to provide financial and other support. He also urged Minnesotans to volunteer to help a school, hospital or social service agency.

The biggest challenge Dayton and lawmakers face is how to deal with a

$6.2 billion budget deficit. There is no clear pathway to solving the differences between the Democratic-Farmer-Laborite governor and Republican legislative leaders, but Dayton said it could be done.

“Previous generations of Minnesotans and other Americans faced graver danger, under worse conditions, with fewer resources than we do today,” Dayton said. “They summoned their collective knowledge, courage and resolve. They persevered. And they prevailed. By working together.”

Republicans say the state does not need to raise taxes. They propose cutting programs to fill the budget gap.

“We are committed to spending within our means,” said Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo.

A Republican budget likely would be around $32 billion over two years, while a Dayton budget probably would top $38 billion.

Dayton, who at 63 is the oldest Minnesotan to become governor, told Republicans that he would welcome their budget ideas.

“To those who sincerely believe the state budget can be balanced with no tax increase, including no forced property tax increase, I say if you can do so without destroy our schools, hospitals and public safety, please send me your bill so I can sign it immediately,” he said.

Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co.