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Editorial: Emmer should not skip debate

When it comes to rural issues, Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer hasn't exactly been reassuring in his campaign so far.

He plans to skip a candidate forum sponsored by the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities on Thursday in Winona.

DFLer Mark Dayton and Independent Tom Horner will be there. Emmer should too.

Especially since he aims to solve the state's $6 billion budget gap through spending cuts -- so far, without giving specifics.

It doesn't take a math professor to figure it out: If Emmer wins, cities can kiss goodbye to what's left of their Local Government Aid from the state, and counties can do the same thing with what's left of their state aid.

The programs -- designed to keep property taxes under control in outstate Minnesota -- have already suffered disproportionate cuts in recent years, particularly through Gov. Tim Pawlenty's unallotment process.

It's a safe bet that they will be the first cuts that will be made by someone looking to slice his way out of a $6 billion hole.

Emmer was criticized for his decision not to attend the forum by Timothy Strand, mayor of St. Peter and president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities.

"The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities is excited to be joined by gubernatorial candidates Mark Dayton and Tom Horner for a forum on rural issues at our annual summer conference," Strand said. "We look forward to hearing how their visions for improving the economic viability of our communities fit into their overall solutions for bridging the state's $6 billion budget gap.

"There is no better opportunity to explain why you will be a champion for rural Minnesota than by debating the other candidates for governor in front of the mayors, city council members, and city staff that make up the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities.

"That is why we are disheartened that Rep. Emmer has declined this opportunity. We hope Rep. Emmer reconsiders his invitation and joins Mark Dayton and Tom Horner in an open and honest conversation on the critical issues that will affect the 2.4 million Minnesotans living in greater Minnesota.

"We also hope Rep. Emmer reevaluates the message that his absence at this critical forum sends to greater Minnesota communities."

All the candidates need to get specific about how they will handle the state's huge budget problem, and voters -- and reporters -- need to hold their feet to the fire until they get solid answers.

Otherwise, residents in outstate Minnesota will be in for a rude awakening when they find out they're once again having to deal with the brunt of some huge budget cuts.