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No fun for legislators as they attempt to fill Minnesota's budget hole of some $1.2 billion

Gov. Tim Pawlenty, above, and Minnesota legislators return to the state Capitol today for a legislative session that promises to be little fun and with the not-so-simple goal of balancing the state budget in mind. Minnesota faces a deficit of at least $1.2 billion in the current budget, which lasts another 18 months. However, that hole could grow as the state recovers from a recession. File photo

Minnesota legislators return to the state Capitol today for a session that promises to be little fun. Lawmakers will deal with the necessities, not the luxuries, as there is one overriding necessity on their minds: balance the state budget.

People around the Capitol understand that. Usually in the days leading up to a legislative session, one group after another parades its leaders to tell lawmakers how important one program or another is and, by the way, that program needs more money.

That is happening very little now because the state faces a deficit of at least $1.2 billion in the current budget, which lasts another year and a half. The next budget likely will be in even worse shape. Groups such as the AFL-CIO have called for increased spending on job programs and many people support returning money to a health-care program for the poor.

"They're all difficult," Gov. Tim Pawlenty said of making cuts. "Any reductions in spending at this point are going to be controversial and many of them are going to be difficult. But it's no different than what families and taxpayers are doing across the state, tightening their belts, living on less -- in some cases living on a lot less."

Most Republicans agree with Pawlenty that taxes should not be raised but programs should be cut. Democrats who control the House and Senate disagree.

House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said budget woes will not stop Democrats from looking for ways to create jobs, such as providing tax credits and paying for public works projects.

"Even in tough economic times, you have to be strategic about growing jobs," Sertich said.

The session beginning today likely will last until May 17, the last day the state constitution allows lawmakers to meet.

The state is operating under a $30 billion, two-year budget after spending $34 billion the previous two years. Pawlenty made many of the cuts on his own last summer following a 2009 legislative session that ended in a stereotypical dispute between Pawlenty and Democratic leaders.

Legislators of both parties are awaiting Pawlenty's ideas for trimming the budget.

Pawlenty delivers his State of the State address a week from today, and plans to release his budget tweaks at about the same time.

Davis and Tellijohn report for Forum Communications Co.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.