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Now, anyone can fix the state budget

The opening page of a Web-based exercise shows the Minnesota budget starts with a nearly $6 billion deficit. The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities site is designed to help the public and governor candidates understand the complexity of balancing the budget. (Don Davis/Forum Communications)

ST. PAUL -- Budget wonks no longer are the only Minnesotans who can understand the difficulty of balancing a state budget nearly $6 billion in the hole.

A few minutes with a new Web-based budget simulator shows, for instance:

- Nearly 40 percent of state general education spending would need to be cut to balance the budget.

- All state college and university spending could be eliminated and the state still would have a substantial deficit.

- Creating a new income tax tier for Minnesota couples earning more than $250,000 a year and charging them 12.85 percent fixes only a third of the problem.

- Expanding the sales tax to food, medicine and clothing gets only halfway to the nearly $6 billion.

- Eliminating all public safety, environment, economic development, agriculture and veterans spending does not even come close to closing the gap.

While the exercise is enlightening to an average Minnesotan, who knows little about the makeup of the state's $30 billion, two-year budget, the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities set up to encourage governor candidates to draw up more specific budget proposals before the Nov. 2 election.

"This points out ... how much is involved in state government," Glencoe Mayor Randy Wilson said Wednesday in unveiling the website. "The more we know, the better we can be prepared."

Wilson said he leans Republican but does not know enough about the three major governor candidates' budget plans to decide who he likes best.

Democrat Mark Dayton and the Independence Party's Tom Horner have released outlines of their plans, and Republican Tom Emmer's campaign promises a budget proposal soon.

If Minnesotans can decide how they would balance the budget on the new website, so can candidates, said the city coalition's Steve Peterson, who designed the site.