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Detroit Lakes and Becker County see big cuts in state aid

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Detroit Lakes and Becker County see big cuts in state aid
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

Detroit Lakes lost more than $140,000 and Becker County more than $300,000 under aid cuts to cities and counties implemented by Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

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To balance the state's budget, Pawlenty on Friday drained the state's budget reserve and chopped away at state payments to local governments, colleges, human services providers and state agencies.

The average Minnesotan should notice little change, the Republican said.

Major cuts included $110 million from payments due to cities and counties,

$73 million from human services programs, $40 million from colleges and

$40 million from various state agencies.

"Families and businesses across the country are tightening their belts, and government needs to do the same thing," Pawlenty said.

City officials were unhappy with losing $66 million of an expected $280 million payment on Dec. 26.

Pawlenty's cuts - officially known as "unallotment" - mean cities will receive 22 percent less money than they expected this month, said Tim Flaherty of Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities.

Executive Director Jim Mulder of the Association of Minnesota Counties said his members will not complain.

"We have decided as an association that we are not going to spend a lot of time complaining," Mulder said. "Nobody wants this ... but it is a reality."

As Pawlenty cuts $271 million from the budget - after using the state's $155 million budget reserve - counties will lose $44 million of the $165 million they expected.

Aid to cities with 1,000 or fewer residents, exempting 505 of the state's 854 cities, was not cut. Counties smaller than 5,000 also were spared.

Pawlenty - who under the constitution was required to make cuts - balanced the state budget without affecting military, veterans, public safety and K-12 education programs.

Pawlenty made the cuts after a report came out indicating the state otherwise would end the fiscal year June 30 with a $426 million deficit. Days after that report, Minnesota's state economist predicted the deficit could grow to $70 million more in the coming months, forcing another round of cuts.

Pawlenty would not say what he will do if more cuts are needed early in 2009.

The current budget problem is just part of the whole picture. In total, the state is projecting a $5.3 billion deficit.

The Legislature and Pawlenty will need to balance the next two-year budget once lawmakers return to St. Paul on Jan. 6. The total budget is expected to be about $32 billion.

Behind state aid to local governments, Friday's largest cut was in human services programs. But Pawlenty said few people should notice.

"As much as possible, we have worked to minimize the impact of these cuts by reducing accounts with surplus balances or excess funds that have not been spent or committed to projects," Pawlenty said.

The governor said the cuts to counties amount to less than 2 percent of their budgets and the average city cut would be about 3 percent.

Pawlenty praised the counties' effort to reform, even as he criticized many cities.

For state government, Pawlenty already has ordered his agencies to cut spending 10 percent for the rest of the current fiscal year. Many vacant state jobs are going unfilled.

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