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Pawlenty pushes tax cuts to help jobs

ST. PAUL -- Gov. Tim Pawlenty used his last State of the State address to push many of the same ideas Minnesotans have heard from him since he took office 2003, with the same results: Republicans generally praising them and Democrats criticizing.

The GOP governor talked about the state's poor tax climate for business and said government should shrink, all in the name of helping create jobs.

"So the most important question before us is this: How do we best grow good, private-sector jobs in Minnesota?" Pawlenty asked in his 33-minute speech. "The people who can best answer that question aren't in this room. They're not in Congress. They are not in the White House. They're not in bureaucracies. In fact, they're usually not in government or politics at all."

The governor said businesses are in the best position to help the economy, but state government needs to help them with lower taxes and an easier path to receive permits and licenses that government grants.

The speech was Pawlenty's eighth and final State of the State, and his most closely watched nationally since he is a possible 2012 presidential candidate. Pawlenty sprinkled in national references, but national political observers were expected to be most interested in how closely the Republican governor adhered to conservative ideals on Minnesota issues.

Most other potential presidential candidates are not in a governor's office now, giving Pawlenty more attention than many others.

Pawlenty did not go in depth into how he would solve a $1.2 billion budget deficit. That will be his subject Monday, when he releases budget tweaks.

After the current two-year budget, which spends about $30 billion, the deficit could be larger than $5 billion.

State finance officials expect to have difficulty paying bills this spring, so plan to delay payments to some school districts. Next year, the situation is expected to become much worse, so school leaders and others closely will watch the governor's Monday announcement.

Reaction to the speech split along party lines, although some Democrats praised Pawlenty's speech.

Former Gov. Wendy Anderson, a Democrat, praised Pawlenty's speech as what was needed for a tough economic time.

But Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, one of eight legislators running for governor, said he was glad it was the last Pawlenty speech he would need to hear. The governor went into office with a nearly $4.6 billion deficit and is leaving in a year with one that will be bigger.

Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said Pawlenty's focus on jobs was right.

Many Democrats said the speech was meant for a national audience instead of the Minnesotans in the packed House chamber or around the state.

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.