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Pawlenty ready to take federal money

ST. PAUL - The Pawlenty administration plans to spend all federal economic stimulus money that it can get its hands on - estimated at $4 billion.

That announcement Monday came weeks after Gov. Tim Pawlenty criticized the package and hinted he would reject federal funds.

"We are going to do our best to accept every penny or every dime," said Tom Hanson, commissioner of the office of management and budget.

Hanson said, however, that details about how the money can be spent still are lacking a week after President Barack Obama signed the $787 billion package into law and there could be some provisions that Minnesota could not accept.

U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., said it could be weeks before the final breakdown on economic stimulus spending is figured out. Obama announced Monday that states will get their first stimulus checks this week, but Hanson told two House committees that state officials will not know exactly how much federal money will be coming their way, or what strings will be attached, for some time.

For instance, Minnesota Education Commissioner Alice Seagren said that while there are estimates about how much money each school district will receive, she warns local officials not to count on those amounts. "The numbers keep changing ... It is just evolving as we speak."

If Pawlenty's proposed $300 million cut to state-run colleges and universities passes the Legislature, Seagren said, the newly signed federal law requires that stimulus dollars replace the money cut before other education programs get any emergency funding. So if lawmakers agree with Pawlenty's budget cuts, less money would be available for public schools.

All together, Minnesota should receive $9 billion, said Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung. Of that, about $5 billion would go to federal tax cuts and $4 billion to the government, nonprofit groups and other organizations. Some lawmakers are concerned that the federal government is controlling how the state spends stimulus money.

"Members, this is our state," Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Wabasha, told fellow lawmakers in an unsuccessful bid to require the Pawlenty administration to reject any federal funds with strings attached, unless lawmakers agreed to the spending.

"Minnesotans are demanding that we fix the budget problem rather than defer it to the future," Drazkowski said, indicating that some federal money likely will need to be replaced with state funds in future budgets.