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Stinson is optimistic about the economy in Minnesota

ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota economy is growing, but not as fast as the national average, a state Finance Department report says.

The report says that the state's unemployment rate of 3.7 percent is well below the 5.1 percent national average, but Minnesota is not adding as many jobs as other states.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty, while saying the state has a bright fiscal future, added that southern states' stealing of jobs is one of the few economic problems remaining. "We need to be more competitive," he said.

State Economist Tom Stinson said he is optimistic the state's economy will improve.

"The economic outlook is a little bit touchy, but I am not overly concerned," Stinson said.

Big bonding bill?

Wednesday's budget forecast shows the state could afford to sell $965 million in bonds to finance public works projects.

However, legislative leaders and Pawlenty would not say how much they will propose spending.

Finance Commissioner Peggy Ingison said that while a nearly $1 billion bonding bill might fit into the current two-year budget, it could prove too costly for future budgets when bonds would have to be repaid.

Pawlenty suggested he wanted a "good-sized" bonding bill without defining what he meant. Peaceful or not?

At first glance, having about $1 billion more than expected seems like a good thing for legislators facing re-election campaigns next year.

But oftentimes excess money means excess debate about how to spend it.

"Having more money may create some problems, but they are the problems we like," said Rep. Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud.

Legislative leaders promised they would strive for a short session, which begins March 1 and must end by May 22.