Looking at the fewer than a dozen people attending, two state legislators may have felt the bad news they carried was to blame. Minnesota State Senator Rod Skoe and Minnesota Representative State Brita Sailer got right to the point.
Minnesota has been living beyond its means and the bills are coming due. Their message was not unexpected. Although the size of the expected deficit had been pared only days earlier, there will be cuts in the budgets of state programs and virtually everyone will feel the reductions.
At the meeting in the Blackduck High School media center, Skoe and Sailer detailed some of the mistakes made in prior sessions, highlighted some of the ways in which the budget has grown faster than expected and laid much of the blame on the current problems at the door of Governor Tim Pawlenty.
At the same time, they were quick to distance themselves from the statements of Representative John Persell of Bemidji earlier in the week.
Persell had called for Pawlenty's impeachment for the governor's frequent absence from the state on trips connected with Pawlenty's hopes for a presidential nomination.
Skoe said work on the state bonding bill is moving ahead with emphasis on projects that could move ahead starting this summer.
The general outlook for the state is good for the long term, he said, but for the short term the state will continue to borrow from school and higher education funds.
Responding to questions from Blackduck City Administrator Karin Elhard and Blackduck School Superintendent Bob Doetsch, Skoe said cities will eventually get some funding restored and that schools will be repaid for their loss, but that repayment may come over an extended period -- as much as 10 years, he guessed.
Sailer and Skoe both said the cuts in GMAC -- general medical assistance -- will be the subject of legislative attention because the effects are felt far beyond the 30,000 persons who would otherwise be moved out of the GMAC program and into another state program, thereby moving other persons out of that one. Fees to hospitals and ambulance services would also face cuts if GMAC is eliminated, they agreed and predicted the legislature will act.
"We have reached the point where everyone is going to see what budget cuts mean," Skoe said.
Referring to Blackduck's four-day school week, the two legislators agreed that schools and cities have generally done well. "It's the state thats the problem," Sailer said. Skoe added that the next three years will be tough and the next legislature will have to solve problems left open this year.
Both agreed there will be cuts in state government but reminded their audience that the total cost of all state government operations amounts to only $4 billion in the $33 billion current budget.
As the pair prepared to move on to their next stop, first to Bagley and then on to Park Rapids, Skoe answered a question about a new state park and land acquisition for it.
"The United States owns more public land, Alaska owns more public land and Minnesota comes close behind -- we don't need more when we can't take care of what we have."