ST. PAUL, Minn. - Mark Dayton, the Democratic governor of Minnesota who let his state's government shut down rather than accept the refusal of Republican lawmakers to raise income taxes on the wealthy, was born into money.
It made him sure of something: "I grew up in that environment. I know people can afford it."
Most of Minnesota state government stands idle this weekend, the result of Dayton's and the GOP-controlled Legislature's failure to pass a new budget by Friday's deadline. State parks and the Minnesota Zoo are closed, highway projects are stalled and thousands of government workers are at home without pay for the foreseeable future.
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 Dayton's fellow Democratic governors, such as New York's Andrew 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 a necessary part of any solution to closing the state's $5 billion budget deficit.
"My father's favorite quote was from the Bible: 'Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required,' " Dayton told The Associated Press on Friday afternoon in his Capitol office. The front doors to the domed building were newly adorned with signs: "This building closed until further notice due to the state government service interruption."
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 has 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 office.
"I don't underestimate his resolve," said Doug Magnus, a Republican state senator and a farmer from the state's southwest corner.
The political ideology underpinning Dayton's actions isn't limited to his experiences as a wealthy man. In Friday's interview, he described his years after graduating from Yale, which included a short time teaching in an inner-city school in New York.
"All these kids in my classroom were just as wonderful creations as I, and through no choice of our own, I was born into this great good fortune and they were born into this abject poverty," Dayton said.
"The injustice really seared my conscience."