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Juhnke says gov.'s cuts are all on him; 'He owns' the cuts to the budget: Measures approved

WILLMAR -- When Gov. Tim Pawlenty cuts $2.7 billion from the state budget, Rep. Al Juhnke says Pawlenty will have no one but himself to blame for the immediate and long-term consequences it will have on the state, local communities and individual Minnesotans.

"He owns these cuts," said Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, during an interview Wednesday at the West Central Tribune.

Frustrated that the end of an otherwise productive legislative session ended without agreement on the budget, Juhnke said he believes it was Pawlenty's plan all along to force the Legislature into a no-win situation so that he could make the deep and "damaging" cuts himself.

Reiterating a line that other Democrats have been saying since the session ended this week, Juhnke said Pawlenty was determined to make the Legislature "do it my way, or I'll do it my way."

"From day one he's been unattached. He hasn't shown up to negotiate," said Juhnke. "He was nowhere to be found and he kept echoing no, no, no. That was his refrain."

Juhnke said he believes Pawlenty's plan was not to do what was best for the state but to advance his own national political career. He said it's obvious Pawlenty isn't running for a third term as governor. "You wouldn't leave this mess for yourself," he said.

There is apparently talk around the state that some of the entities that will bear the brunt of Pawlenty's $2.7 billion unallotment may sue the governor, Juhnke said.

There are questions whether he can constitutionally and single-handedly make those cuts.

The lowest point of the session, Juhnke said, was Sunday when House members failed to override Pawlenty's line-item veto of the General Assistance Medical Care, which will leave 35,000 childless Minnesota adults without medical care.

These are the "poorest of the poor and the sickest of the sick," Juhnke said. They are people who are "just getting by" who make less than $8,000 a year. Many have mental illness or are widows, he said.

Cutting their care is "beyond the pale of what most Minnesotans think this state is," said Juhnke, adding that not one Republican voted to override the veto.

"It really shows the colors of what's left of the Republican Party," Juhnke said. "It was an exercise showing where our values lie."

That $381 million cut will result in budget cuts and layoffs in hospitals around the state, including Willmar, he said.

It's the kind of cut that could have been avoided, Juhnke said, if Pawlenty had accepted a proposal to add a third-tier tax bracket to families making $300,000 (net) a year. The tax increase would have cost those families an additional $109 a year, Juhnke said.

Despite the disappointing end to the session, Juhnke said many good bipartisan bills were approved and signed by Pawlenty, including Juhnke's ag and veterans bill that was passed 133-0. "I've never had that happen before, he said. "There were a lot of positive things."

Although his proposal to fund construction of a veterans nursing home in Willmar met a roadblock in the Senate, despite being approved three times in the House, Juhnke said the proposal is well-positioned for next year.

"People need to understand the entire session wasn't a flop," he said.

The following are some of the local measures that were approved in the 2009 session:

* Donations to humane societies that exceed $4,800 will now be allowed. Under the previous state law, larger donations were not permitted, which could have prevented the city of Willmar from donating land for the new shelter of the Humane Society of Kandiyohi County.

* The Willmar School District is one of four districts in the state that will receive $15,000 for a pilot project for the farm-to-school program that brings locally grown food into the lunchroom.

* The city of Willmar was given authority to issue temporary liquor licenses to sell alcohol during amateur sporting events involving players over age 18. This was requested by the local curling group.

* New legislation will provide protection from pesticides for railroad workers and allow nonresidents to obtain spearing licenses.

* The "Let's Go Fishing" for seniors program received $150,000.


Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750