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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published April 12 2010

Political notebook: Minnesota budget cuts on hold

ST. PAUL – Minnesota lawmakers are waiting for Congress before cutting the state budget any further.

Before leaving for a weeklong Easter-Passover break, legislative leaders said they would immediately begin making the second phase of budget cuts when they got back to work. They returned on Tuesday and by week’s end had postponed formal work on the budget.

“We are kind of in a holding pattern here, seeing what happens in Washington,” House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said.

A bill that includes about $400 million for Minnesota health care programs is awaiting a congressional vote, and Sertich said it makes little sense to pass more budget cuts until Washington acts. However, if Congress does not vote before early May, he added, Minnesota lawmakers will need to take action because the state legislative session must end by May 17.

In the meantime, lawmakers will consider numerous less important bills. They already trimmed a nearly $1 billion budget by $312 million in the first of three budget-cutting measures.

The next budget bill is supposed to cut state-funded health care programs, with education funding to be considered later in the session.

No E-85 comment

The newest Minnesota lieutenant governor candidate refused to talk about E-85 in her debut.

State Sen. Patricia Torres Ray of Minneapolis became Sen. John Marty’s Democratic running mate recently, but when a reporter delivered what now is a must-ask question about the candidate’s understanding of E-85 ethanol fuel, she refused to answer.

“I promised John and the campaign that we were not going to dive into the issues today,” she said, then asked for mercy if she makes a mistake.

E-85 is important because Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Judi Dutcher’s 2006 failure to explain the ethanol-gasoline fuel blend began a series of problems that observers say cost her and governor candidate Mike Hatch the election.

Republican candidate Marty Seifert’s running mate earlier this year muffed the E-85 answer, even after Seifert said, “Yes, she knows what E-85 is.”

Klobuchar mentioned

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is on a couple of lists these days.

Some say she is on a short list of names to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. She would bring background as Hennepin County attorney.

On a longer-range list, some in Washington are talking about her being a potential presidential contender. Several months ago, her name was brought up in comments on a Washington Post blog, and since then, she has become one of the most-sought congressional speakers.

On an MSNBC show, Klobuchar laughed off the possibility that she would replace Stevens but did not completely reject the possibility.

In a statement about Stevens’ replacement, she gave no hint that she was interested: “As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I look forward to considering the president’s nominee to be the next Supreme Court justice, and I hope we will have a productive and civil exchange about that nomination.”

Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.