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Pawlenty budget develops hole

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news Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

ST. PAUL -- It took little time for Democrats and Republicans to find a $387 million hole in Gov. Tim Pawlenty's plan to plug a $1.2 billion budget gap.

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Pawlenty said on Monday that money would be saved if funds in a federal health care reform bill are approved. However, on Tuesday fellow Republican U.S. Rep. John Kline, who serves a district east and south of the Twin Cities, said he has questions about whether that bill will win approval this year.

Kline is a top House Republican on health care and is due to meet Feb. 25 on the subject with President Barack Obama.

Pawlenty on Monday said that if the federal money does not come through, he would have to take another look at his budget cuts.

Ironically, while Pawlenty tells cities and counties they need to rely less on state funding, nearly a third of his budget fix relies on federal funds.

"I've never seen a budget that relies on something the federal government might do," Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, said.

The federal money would replace state funds that pay for health care for some poor Minnesotans.

Also Tuesday, Democrats revealed that Pawlenty actually would cut higher education budgets $53 million instead of the $47 million he said a day earlier. The difference is that Pawlenty did not mention cuts in student financial aid in his Monday announcement.

Downstream heard

Red River Valley legislators agree that communities downstream from a Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion project need to be protected, but not all like a provision Rep. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, inserted in to House bill.

"We have no problem with that he wants to do," Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, said Tuesday, but how Eken goes about the protection could be a problem.

Eken's provision, an amendment to the public works funding bill, forbids Minnesota from paying for the diversion unless the federal government fixes any problems the diversion may cause downstream. The diversion likely would add up to 10.4 inches of water downstream.

The amendment went in the House bill, but is not in the Senate version. Gov. Tim Pawlenty's office did not immediately respond to a request to find out where he stands on the issue.

Langseth, lead Senate public works negotiator on a conference committee that will take up the issue, said work already has begun to store water upstream from Fargo-Moorhead, so it does not flow downstream during floods.

Childhood cuts

Democratic legislators looking into changes GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty proposed Monday to plug a $1.2 billion gap in the state budget are finding problems.

Rep. Nora Slawik, DFL-Maplewood, said that despite Pawlenty's claim that he was not cutting early-childhood education, that is not right.

"Cutting early care and education programs by $6.5 million in 2011, and a proposed $26.2 million in the next biennium put us almost right back to where we were in 2003," Slawik said. "After drastic budget cuts then, many care providers were forced to cut staff or close their doors altogether."

Slawik also said that Pawlenty's proposed cuts could hurt the state's chances to get federal funds.

Court complaints

Minnesota's chief justice is not happy with cuts proposed by the man who appointed him, Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

"I am disappointed in this recommended cut at a time when our base budgets are already insufficient to fund the level of judicial services that Minnesotans expect and deserve," Chief Justice Eric Magnuson said about a proposed $14.7 million cut.

Court leaders say they have no place to gain extra money, so the cuts would mean cases would be delayed and nearly 100 positions would be eliminated. Combined with earlier cuts, that means staffs will have been reduced 13 percent, the courts say.

More offices would close and hundreds of low-income Minnesotans would not receive free legal representation, the courts added.

Legislators are looking at Pawlenty's recommendations and during this year's session will take their own votes on how to balance a budget now facing a $1.2 billion deficit.

Primary OK'd

Senators approved moving the state primary election up to the second Tuesday in August on Tuesday, which would be Aug. 10 this year.

The proposal now awaits House approval.

The move was needed because Congress last year voted to require a 45-day absentee ballot period, and Minnesota's September primary would not be far enough in advance of the November election.

Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.

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