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Real work on state budget about to begin

ST. PAUL - Minnesota legislators begin to delve into Gov. Tim Pawlenty's budget proposal in the next few days.

Most committee meetings beginning Monday will deal with budget issues.

And then they take Pawlenty's budget on the road to see what Minnesotans think of the $33 billion proposal.

However, Democrats say, the budget Pawlenty released Tuesday may not include enough numbers.

"Some are concerned they are not going to have enough details from the governor," Assistant Senate Majority Leader Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud, said.

Democratic leaders like Clark complain that Pawlenty's staff has not given them detailed bills to debate.

One of the questions, she said, is whether the Pawlenty proposal does not include enough money in some areas to take advantage of federal economic recovery money expected to flow to states in coming weeks.

Key legislators will tour the state Feb. 19-20 to get public input.

"I hope we can get just regular folks there," Clark said.

Town hall meetings will be in Mankato, Rochester, St. Cloud and Willmar on Feb. 19, with Feb. 20 featuring stops in Alexandria, Albert Lea, Bemidji, Duluth, Little Falls, Marshall, Virginia, Winona and Worthington. Locations and times are being negotiated.

The Senate Tax Committee meets at 12:30 p.m. at Minnesota State University Moorhead, with discussion to include Local Government Aid.

"Thousands of Minnesotans have already taken the time to send their budget ideas to both the House and Senate websites," said Rep. Loren Solberg, House Ways and Means Committee chairman. "It is very clear that Minnesotans are anxious to share their input. They care about the future of our state and want to help."

Hanson point man

Minnesota Finance Commissioner Tom Hanson is Gov. Tim Pawlenty's pick to coordinate federal stimulus funds.

The Mahnomen native is a long-time Pawlenty advisor and runs the Minnesota Management and Budget Department.

Democratic legislative leaders encouraged Pawlenty to name a point person to coordinate the billions of dollars Minnesota should receive beginning in late February, but they wanted someone from outside the administration.

"While I know and respect Tom Hanson, he already has a big job on his hands as Minnesota faces a historic $5 billion deficit," House majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said. "The Legislature will need to work closely with him as we balance the budget. The task of keeping an eye on the spending of federal recovery dollars should be handled by someone who does not already have a full plate."

Assistant Senate Majority Leader Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud, did not rule out the Legislature appointing its own federal stimulus person.

U.S. senators plan to debate the issue in the next few days after the House passed it Thursday night.

"While the federal stimulus package hasn't yet been finalized, we will be prepared to use any funds provided to Minnesota efficiently and effectively," Pawlenty said. "As state government's point person on the budget, Commissioner Hanson works closely with agencies, legislators and our federal partners and is best suited to oversee these efforts."

Hanson graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead Magna Cum Laude in 1985.