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Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji, introduces Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, a 2010 Democratic candidate for governor, during a fundraiser Wednesday night at her rural Bemidji home. Olson also used the occasion to announce her bid for re-election. Pioneer Photo/Brad Swenson

DFL candidate for governor: Rybak would be honest about state budget

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Minnesota, facing a steep state budget deficit, will have to raise taxes -- but it will also need tough budget management, says Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak.

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Rybak, a 2010 DFL candidate for governor, said Wednesday night that he'd at least be honest about the state budget, which is more than Gov. Tim Pawlenty and other Republicans are.

There is a need to raise taxes "but there's also a need to run government better," he said to about 45 Democrats at a fundraiser at the home of Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji.

Balancing the state budget will need three things, he said, "first, budget cuts; second, reform the way we deliver services; and then we're going to ask people to make an investment -- but only if we can guarantee we're going to fix the structural problems."

Rybak, one of 11 Democrats seeking the office, said he knows that Republicans will label any Democrat who offers tax increases as a "tax and spend" liberal, and adds that the Republicans really hold that title by forcing property tax hikes.

Coming out of nowhere in 2001, Rybak won the Minneapolis mayoral race with 60 percent of the vote for a city with a high crime rate and $110 million in debt. It also suffered from state aid cuts, as did all Minnesota cities under Pawlenty.

In the eight years that Pawlenty has been in office, state spending increased 12 percent while city spending went up 1 percent, he said. "I've proven I know how to cut government; Tim Pawlenty has proven he knows how to talk about it."

During his eight years as mayor, Rybak said he's cut the crime rate, helped create thousands of jobs, funded transportation and environment improvements and erased the $110 million debt.

"We're going to survive the collapse of the economy and the collapse of a bridge," Rybak said, referring to the I-35 bridge collapse that killed 13 people. "People said we're reaching too high and can't do all that."

Instead, "we did all of that and much, much more," he said. "We figured out a way to bring the community together, inspire them to be everything they can be and then have tough, strong management to get things done."

Rybak said in addition to a fairer tax system, he would broaden the sales tax, and seek property tax relief. And, while Pawlenty has chipped way at Local Government Aid to cities, he said LGA may never fully be restored.

But it is money collected from Minnesotans flowing to the state to be sent back to communities most in need to fund essential services. He would increase LGA, but then also create an enterprise fund that cities could draw upon to transition to more efficient, collaborative ways of delivering services.

Rybak, who took numerous questions from DFLers, said he would abide by the DFL endorsement process but added that he believes he stands the best chance of being elected, with high name recognition and a centrist progressive record.

Asked by Leech Lake Tribal Councilor Ribs Whitebird, Rybak said he would oppose any efforts to expand gambling in Minnesota and would not seek to reopen the gaming compact Minnesota has with the 11 tribes in the state.

Accompanied by his wife and two grown children, Rybak rode a dog sled in the afternoon and he and Olson met with North Country Regional Hospital officials to discuss reimbursement rates, something Olson said Bemidji has in common with Minneapolis and Hennepin County Medical Center.

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