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Emmer outlines rest of budget plan, includes local cuts

Tom Emmer wants to limit state spending to revenues already flowing into Minnesota government, but achieving that goal would mean cuts in several areas.

Among proposals getting the strongest reaction is a nearly $700 million cut to local governments.

Emmer, Minnesota's Republican governor candidate, on Tuesday released the final part of his budget proposal, listing amounts he would spend in major state budget areas but not details about what he would cut or increase.

For instance, he said he would cut Local Government Aid and other state money sent to cities and counties from nearly $3 billion in the current two-year budget to $2.3 billion in the budget beginning next July 1. (Local governments expect to receive $3.5 billion in the next budget.) But he did not say just what would be cut.

The state representative from Delano said his proposal is the most specific of any of the three major candidates. Democrat Mark Dayton and Tom Horner of the Independence Party also have laid out budget proposals, with unspecified new revenues and budget cuts.

Cuts are needed in some areas to allow growth in others, such as the ever-increasing cost for the state to fund health care for the poor.

Emmer earlier proposed lowering taxes on the state's businesses by $600 million, leaving $32.3 billion in taxes and other revenues to spend. He repeatedly has said he will not raise taxes.

Overall, Emmer said, he would keep public school spending the same as in the current budget, but would cut higher education from $2.8 billion to $2.5 billion. He would increase health and human services spending, such as health services for the poor, from $9.1 billion to $9.75 billion, far less of an increase than many in the field expect.

Other state agency spending would shrink from $4.5 billion to $3.9 billion, but Emmer said the state workforce is aging so he expects retirements to help lower costs.

Emmer said he will work with both major parties to reform government. "We will not tolerate people who say it can't be done."

Those who count on state aid were not happy with Emmer's proposal.

"Under Tom Emmer's plan, we'll all feel the pain when we dig deeper into our wallets to pay more for the services that keep our communities strong: police, fire protection, libraries, parks, snow plowing, senior centers and more," said Hibbing Mayor Rick Wolff, president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities.

Emmer would limit local aid to public safety and "critical infrastructure needs," as he said the program was designed. A new formula for distributing the smaller pot of local aid money would be drawn up during next year's legislative session, he said, along with reducing mandates the state places on local governments.

Like human services programs help the poor, he said that the state must help cities in need.

Emmer said that he would not back a plan to allow local governments to raise their own sales taxes to make up for state aid cuts, but said he would favor giving them more flexibility in how they spend existing tax money.

Emmer's running mate, Annette Meeks, said that many local governments already are looking at ways to save money. She pointed to Big Stone County paying Kandiyohi County to dispatch its public safety agencies.

The current LGA distribution formula is complex and frustrating, Meeks said.

She added that the campaign has not considered whether to phase in local aid cuts.

Emmer based his budget plan on the current budget, not the projected numbers for the next two years. The Dayton campaign's response to Emmer's budget referred to projected increases.

"He will thus cause huge increases in property taxes, higher college tuitions and seriously damage the quality of education throughout Minnesota," Dayton spokeswoman Katharine Tinucci said. "Furthermore, his drastic cuts in funding for health and human services will restrict access to essential health care for those most in need."

Meanwhile, the Dayton campaign received a shot of reality Tuesday when the state Revenue Department said that his tax plan would not bring in as much money as he expected.

The state said the Democratic candidate's tax-increase plan would generate no more than $1.9 billion in the next two years if a new top tier income tax of 10.95 percent were instituted. It would be paid by married joint filers with annual incomes of at least $150,000.

Dayton, who heavily promotes his tax-the-rich plan, also proposes raising property taxes on homes worth at least $1 million.

"These projections show that more work is needed to identify additional sources of revenues for making Minnesota's state and local taxes more progressive..." Tinucci said.

Republican state Chairman Tony Sutton added: "Given that Dayton's numbers don't add up, it's time for him to come clean with Minnesotans and reveal what other taxes he will raise on hard-working Minnesotans."

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.