State budget problem 'sinking in slowly'
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota legislators are a month away from their deadline to send all tax and budget bills to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, but there is a doubt whether Minnesotans understand the state faces a serious budget problem.
Assistant Senate Majority Leader Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud, said senators are receiving few public comments about the budget, indicating the public does not understand the problem.
Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, added: "I'm not sure we get it yet. ... This is sinking in slowly."
The size of the problem is historic. Federal funds, tax increases, delaying payments, borrowing money and other schemes are being considered to balance the budget.
Stumpf said the cuts are especially hard on longtime senators; he has served in the Senate since 1983.
"In many cases, you are cutting the very programs you put in place," Stumpf said.
U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, who serves southern Minnesota, says budget requests for his district are open to all to see.
In criticizing earmarks that often are hidden in budget bills, the Democrat has released a list of all projects he wants funded.
"Local leaders from communities across southern Minnesota requested funding for an unprecedented number of projects to improve our quality of life in southern Minnesota and create jobs in this challenging economy," Walz said. "I'm confident based on a thorough review of the applications that the projects I am requesting will produce a return on the investment made by the taxpayers of southern Minnesota."
Walz said such requests do not add to the federal budget, only specify how some of the money must be spent.
Parties weigh in
As Norm Coleman and Al Franken awaited a ruling in the U.S. Senate election lawsuit, the state political parties stepped up their criticism of the opponent.
Minnesota DFL Party Chairman Brian Melendez recently called on Coleman to give up his legal fight to overturn Franken's 312-vote lead. The Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party created a Web site and video to push for an end to Senate litigation.
Meanwhile, Minnesota Republicans said the Senate race cannot end until more absentee ballots are counted. State GOP Chairman Ron Carey said Franken should join with Coleman in arguing that some ballots that should be part of the tally remain uncounted.
Ash borer nears
Minnesota officials are bracing for an invasion of the emerald ash borer.
The beetle is just a mile southeast of the Minnesota-Iowa border, state Agriculture Department officials say. They have prepared for the invasion for years.
Minnesota has about 900 million ash trees, the beetle's favorite food.
State officials say Minnesotans can help prevent the beetle from spreading by buying all wood for campfire locally, not even transporting it within the state.
State Capitol reporter Scott Wente contributed to this report.