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Now anyone can literally fix the state's $6B-in-the-hole budget

Steve Peterson of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities explains Wednesday that a new website is designed to encourage governor candidates to submit a state budget-balancing plan. The coalition launched the site, which allows the public to try to balance the budget. Tribune photo by Don?Davis

ST. PAUL -- Budget wonks no longer are the only Minnesotans who can understand the difficulty of balancing a state budget nearly $6 billion in the hole.

A few minutes with a new Web-based budget simulator shows, for instance:

- Nearly 40 percent of state general education spending would need to be cut to balance the budget.

- All state college and university spending could be eliminated and the state still would have a substantial deficit.

- Creating a new income tax tier for Minnesota couples earning more than $250,000 a year and charging them 12.85 percent only fixes a third of the problem.

- Expanding the sales tax to food, medicine and clothing only gets half-way to the nearly $6 billion.

- Eliminating all public safety, environment, economic development, agriculture and veterans spending does not even come close to closing the gap.

While the exercise is enlightening to an average Minnesotan, who knows little about the makeup of the state's $30 billion, two-year budget, the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities set up to encourage governor candidates to draw up more specific budget proposals before the Nov. 2 election.

"This points out ... how much is involved in state government," Glencoe Mayor Randy Wilson said Wednesday in unveiling the Web site. "The more we know, the better we can be prepared."

Wilson said he leans Republican, but does not know enough about the three major governor candidates' budget plans to decide who he likes best.

Democrat Mark Dayton and the Independence Party's Tom Horner have released outlines of their plans, and Republican Tom Emmer's campaign promises a budget proposal soon.

If Minnesotans can decide how they would balance the budget on the new Web site, so can candidates, said the city coalition's Steve Peterson, who designed the site.

Don 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.