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Don Davis, Published February 17 2010

Lawmakers find hole in Pawlenty budget plan

ST. PAUL – It took little time for Democrats and Republicans to find a

$387 million hole in Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s plan to plug a $1.2 billion budget gap.

Pawlenty said on Monday that money would be saved if funds in a federal health care reform bill are approved. However, on Tuesday fellow Republican U.S. Rep. John Kline, who serves a district east and south of the Twin Cities, said he has questions about whether that bill will win approval this year.

Kline is a top House Republican on health care and is due to meet Feb. 25 on the subject with President Barack Obama.

Pawlenty on Monday said that if the federal money does not come through, he would have to take another look at his budget cuts.

Ironically, while Pawlenty tells cities and counties they need to rely less on state funding, nearly a third of his budget fix relies on federal funds.

“I’ve never seen a budget that relies on something the federal government might do,” said Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis.

The federal money would replace state funds that pay for health care for some poor Minnesotans.

Also Tuesday, Democrats revealed that Pawlenty actually would cut higher education budgets $53 million instead of the $47 million he said a day earlier. The difference is that Pawlenty did not mention cuts in student financial aid in his Monday announcement.

Childhood cuts

Democratic legislators looking into changes GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty proposed Monday to plug a $1.2 billion gap in the state budget are finding problems.

Rep. Nora Slawik, DFL-Maplewood, said Pawlenty’s claim he is not cutting early childhood education is not right.

“Cutting early care and education programs by $6.5 million in 2011, and a proposed $26.2 million in the next biennium, put us almost right back to where we were in 2003,” Slawik said. “After drastic budget cuts then, many care providers were forced to cut staff or close their doors altogether.”

Slawik also said that Pawlenty’s proposed cuts could hurt the state’s chances to get federal funds.

Primary OK’d

On Tuesday, Senators approved moving the state primary election up to the second Tuesday in August, which would be Aug. 10 this year.

The proposal now awaits House approval.

The move was needed because Congress last year voted to require a 45-day absentee ballot period, and Minnesota’s September primary would not be far enough in advance of the November election.

Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.