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Pawlenty wants more local aid, health cuts; gov. is critical of DFL-controlled Legislature

Gov. Tim Pawlenty would cut another $536 million, mainly through local government aid payments and health care cuts, to balance the state's budget. Tribune photo

ST. PAUL -- Gov. Tim Pawlenty wants to cut local government payments and health care programs for the poor deeper because it appears Washington will not send Minnesota as much money as he expected.

Under his new plan, cities and counties would lose $176 million, an Iron Range economic development fund would lose $95 million, unspecified health and human service programs would lose $211 million, public schools would lose $13 million and other programs would lose $41 million.

Pawlenty called the Democratic-controlled Legislature "pathetic" for not doing more to balance the budget this legislative session, which must end by May 17.

His proposals would cut $536 million, which he said would finish balancing the budget.

"We are cutting everything with the exception of military and public safety," the governor said. "Nothing is immune."

Democratic leaders rejected the Republican governor's proposal, saying lawmakers from both parties already have turned down $405 million of his proposed reductions.

House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said Pawlenty's plan "disproportionally affects rural Minnesota and our core cities."

Pawlenty said lawmakers have failed to take budget action beyond passing a bill cutting spending $313 million.

"They have spent all kinds of time doing a whole bunch of nothing," Pawlenty said.

A sagging economy has caused the state budget problems the last couple of years. The state constitution requires the budget to be balanced, but revenues have lagged behind spending, forcing program cuts.

Last summer, Pawlenty chopped $2.7 billion out of what was a $34 billion, two-year budget. While the state Supreme Court decides whether his cuts are legal, more budget problems have surfaced.

Pawlenty and the House had counted on $408 million in federal funds, but the latest information out of Washington indicates the money will not be available by the time lawmakers have to adjourn for the year, if it ever is available. Pawlenty's proposed $536 million in cuts take into account the missing federal funds and the rest of the remaining deficit.

Cities and counties have lost state aid in many of the past seven years as Pawlenty and lawmakers look for places to trim so they can balance the budget. Local officials say they cannot handle more reductions.

Davis reports 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.