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By Martiga Lohn / Associated Press, Published May 29 2009

Minnesotans take crack at fixing deficit

ST. PAUL – Minnesotans are looking everywhere from liquor sales on Sunday to racetrack gambling to bring more money into the state budget. Others want to save on items as big as entire government programs and as small as printing fewer legislative directories.

So far, more than 1,600 people have e-mailed ideas to Gov. Tim Pawlenty as he prepares to cut and delay $2.7 billion in spending to balance the budget. The Republican governor will make the cuts without legislative approval because the session ended last week with a deficit left over.

Pawlenty plans to announce the reductions before the new state budget begins on July 1.

Suggestions have been coming into an e-mail address, budgetideas@state.mn.us, that started receiving messages on May 19. Pawlenty’s office wouldn’t release all the e-mails, citing state data practices law and an office policy to protect constituents’ privacy, but selected five samples after removing names and identifying information.

One saw tax money sitting in cars that cross the border to buy booze: “Allow MN liquor stores to open on Sundays. Create tax revenue. Create jobs. Save gas, as you wouldn’t believe the MN cars that line up at WI border towns waiting for the off sale to open on Sunday.”

Another pitched a money-maker that Pawlenty has dismissed and got little attention during the session: state-backed gambling, such as a casino at Canterbury Park racetrack in Shakopee. The writer said similar racinos are working elsewhere.

The lack of a budget deal between Pawlenty and Democrats who control the Legislature left a shortfall heading into the upcoming two-year budget, even with all major spending bills signed into law. Pawlenty plans to use a gubernatorial power called unallotment to cancel or delay payments during a deficit.

Unallotment authority is limited to already approved spending, which means the governor can’t singlehandedly create a state-run casino or change liquor laws.

Pawlenty said Thursday he aims to make the bulk of the reductions in the second year of the cycle, starting in July 2010.

“That will give the Legislature some time to come in and review some of those decisions and alter them or change then if they choose,” he said at the Capitol.

Other e-mails released by Pawlenty’s office urged cuts – evenly across state government or for specific programs and services.

DFLers also collected thousands of public comments on the budget earlier this year in a series of statewide public hearings and through the House and Senate Web sites. About 6,000 people submitted ideas to the House Web site alone.

A review of those messages showed a mix of ideas, from the general (“Do not cut education budgets,” one said) to the very specific: “School gyms could be wedding spaces etc. Think of the income that could be generated!!”

Others looked to save by turning down the heat in state offices, reducing the number of school sports games, eliminating farm subsidies and mowing roadside ditches less often.