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Concerns over Minnesota's expected budget shortfall voiced at Bemidji town hall meeting

State Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji, outlines what could be a $5 billion state budget deficit to about eight people who attended her town hall meeting Monday afternoon at Bemidji City Hall. She is holding similar sessions in 12 other Senate 4 cities through Thursday. (Brad Swenson/Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI - The worsening economy may push the projected state budget deficit beyond $5 billion, shelving many popular Democratic ideas for health care and education reform, fears Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji.

"We are going to have to set some priorities," Olson said Monday afternoon during a town hall meeting at Bemidji City Hall. Also attending was Rep.-elect John Persell, DFL-Bemidji.

Lawmakers and Gov. Pawlenty will have some numbers to work with Thursday when the latest state revenue projections are made public, but Olson said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, is anticipating "a budget deficit between $5 (billion) and $6 billion -- and that's a very sobering number," Olson said.

It would exceed the last great budget crisis of 2003 when lawmakers solved a $4.5 billion shortfall, but Olson said that come with no additional state taxes but with a lot of shifts and use of one-time monies such as the budget reserve and tobacco lawsuit settlement.

That's not there now, Olson said.

"That number does not include inflation, and there are some costs we just know will go up regardless of what we do in services the state provides," the Bemidji Democrat said. "Health care costs are continuing to rise, well ahead of inflation, and that is a big part of the state budget."