Weather Forecast


Local governments, health providers, colleges brace for Pawlenty's budget proposal

Gov. Tim Pawlenty

ST. PAUL - Local governments, health providers, colleges and pretty much every other group that depends on state money are bracing for a punch in the gut today when Gov. Tim Pawlenty releases his proposed budget for the next two years.

The Republican governor has been dropping broad hints that public school education will be spared most of the budget-cutting pain as state policymakers face a deficit of nearly $5 billion - although most in the Capitol expect it to near or top $7 billion when all is said and done. Pawlenty also says he will do whatever he can to keep funding for the military and public safety.

Pawlenty even says he plans to increase health and human services spending, although at a much lower rate than Democrats, in particular, want.

Most of the budget-balancing work will come via spending cuts, the governor has said. Among those cuts will be aid to local governments, programs Pawlenty long has said are needed but need to change so local officials do not rely so much on state aid.

Cities are so certain of a cut that on Monday they already scheduled a news conference for this afternoon to object to the reductions. Among those speaking are Wadena Mayor Wayne Wolden and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.

While the governor proposes big budget cuts, he also wants to substantially chop business taxes, which would further reduce money available for the state to spend.

Democratic legislative leaders say they will schedule hearings around the state to hear comments on Pawlenty's budget proposals.

On March 4, a new economic report is due that many in the Capitol say will show a deficit near or above $7 billion in the $30 billion-plus two-year budget that begins July 1.

Once the new deficit is announced, Pawlenty will retool his spending proposal, followed in later March or April by budget plans by Democrats who control the House and Senate.

The state constitution requires legislators to adjourn for the year by May 18, but some already are predicting a summer special session will be needed to finish the budget.

Most states face similar budget deficits, and many state officials hope a federal economic recovery bill making its way through Congress will help them get through what economists call the worst recession since World War II.