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Republican leaders conduct budget-balancing fly-around

From left, Rep. Matt Dean, along with Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers and Sen. Geoff Michel, listen to Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch give an update on the political situation at the State Capitol Monday afternoon at Bemidji Airport. The 2011 Legislative Session is scheduled to conclude May 23. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Four Republican Minnesota Senate and House members stopped in their 12-hour, eight-city tour of the state Monday to promote their budget positions.

Senate majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo; Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove; Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina; and Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, boosted their "live within our means" plan to solve the state's $5 billion two-year budget shortfall.

"Only spend the hard-earned tax dollars that come in," said Zellers. "This is where we're going for our kids and grandkids."

"It's about reforming and changing government, how services are provided to people," said Koch, noting that current practices are 1960s and 1970s style of government.

More efficiency would go a long way to streamline efforts, she said, but the $34 billion budget the Republicans are proposing is the same as for the last two years. They said Gov. Mark Dayton's proposed budget would increase taxes by $2.4 billion and increase government spending 22 percent.

Because some areas in their scenario would receive an increase in funding, K-12 education and health and human services, for example, they acknowledged that some departments would be reduced.

According to a press release from the DFL House Caucus, the Republican proposal is based on "unsubstantiated assumptions and inaccurate fiscal estimates. ... Over half of the House GOP budget deficit solution is made up of shifts, gimmicks, one-time money and property tax increases."

Michel said Dayton's campaign platform and plan to raise taxes for the 5 percent of wealthiest Minnesotans brought him a narrow victory, but since then, the governor has increased the amount of tax increases he has brought to the Legislature.

Dean referred to the governor's proposals as "job-killing tax increases."

On the local level, Zellers said Republicans support the Association of Minnesota Counties' MAGIC, or Minnesota Accountable Government Innovation and Collaborate, Act. Sending counties the state funding and letting them decide how to use it makes sense, he said.

In response to a question about a Vikings stadium, Zellers said he would need to see where the Vikings wanted to build, whom they would partner with and what kind of building they want.

"Before we can get involved, we have to have a little more concrete in the plan," He said.

Koch said the business climate can't improve until the state government gets the budget under control. With that accomplished, the economy will grow, she said.

"This is about so much more than making the books balance," she said.