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Local Democratic legislators say a tough financial slog rests ahead

GRANITE FALLS -- Local DFL legislators would prefer to solve the state's projected $1.2 billion budget deficit with a mix of spending cuts and new revenue.

But they don't hold out much hope for reaching the bipartisan consensus a mixed approach of spending cuts and tax increases would require.

They are also skeptical about negotiating any kind of budget deal with Gov. Tim Pawlenty, unless court decisions on the governor's use of unallotment powers force him to the bargaining table, they said.

"Realistically speaking, it will have to be cuts,'' said Sen. Gary Kubly, DFL-Granite Falls, when discussing where the focus will be in dealing with the budget deficit. Kubly, along with DFL Reps. Lyle Koenen, of Clara City, and Andrew Falk, of Murdock, discussed the upcoming session with the Yellow Medicine County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.

Much of the debate will be whether to impose across-the-board cuts or to be selective, according to Kubly.

The three DFL'ers said they are not willing to support Gov. Pawlenty's proposal to shift an estimated $1.7 billion in education spending as a means of closing the budget deficit. Kubly said he could not support the governor's shift as it includes no means of paying it back.

Koenen said he is worried that, overall, "shifts'' proposed to balance the budget could become permanent cuts.

He anticipates a difficult session as battle lines are being drawn early. "It's going to be tough to try and reach a consensus. I can see the strong feelings,'' Koenen told the commissioners.

The legislators said there are differences within the DFL Party as well, as some in their caucus would prefer tax increases to cuts.

The legislators said they anticipate early votes in both the Senate and House on bonding bills. Falk expects a $1 billion bill in the house, and said the goal is to have it approved within two weeks of the session's February start. Kubly said he wouldn't be surprised to see a bonding bill of $900 million or larger pass the Senate and, similarly, he expects an early vote.

They expect the governor to trim the final bonding bill.

With seven GOP and 10 DFL gubernatorial hopefuls in the Legislature, this upcoming session is sure to offer lots of drama, according to the three local lawmakers.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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