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Legislative leaders preview 2003 session
Legislative leaders say the budget will dominate the 2003 legislative session. They said on MPR's Midday program that their biggest job will be dealing with a budget deficit that could top $3 billion. But other issues are certain to come up, including abortion, the Profile of Learning graduation standards and possibly a casino.

St. Paul, Minn. — House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, says lawmakers can balance the budget without raising taxes. Republican Gov.-elect Tim Pawlenty and more than a fourth of the new Legislature have signed no-tax-increase pledges. Sviggum didn't sign the Taxpayers' League's pledge this year, but he says House Republicans will work with Pawlenty to help him pass a budget that doesn't raise taxes.

"I didn't sign the taxpayer pledge as I didn't want to put my feet in cement, but the bottom line: we're going to fight for the family and the working person out there, their budget over the government budget," Sviggum said.

Sviggum says lawmakers probably won't make any major budget decisions until after the February revenue forecast is released. Pawlenty's budget will be based on the November forecast that will be released in a couple of weeks.

DFL leaders say they'll give Pawlenty a chance to show how he can balance the budget without raising taxes. But Senate Majority Leader John Hottinger, DFL-Mankato, says Democrats will point out the effects of any cuts to government programs.

"The government budget is a family budget. It's education, it's transportation, it's higher education, it's helping those with disabilities, it's helping seniors who need nursing home care. It's not isolated from our families, in fact, it's a fundamental part of our families," he said.

Hottinger says if Pawlenty's budget doesn't raise taxes at the state level, it will likely result in property tax increases.

Senate Minority Leader Dick Day, R-Owatonna, says his caucus will push for using some of the state's tobacco endowments to balance the budget. Day has also been a supporter of building a state-run casino, which could raise money for the state's coffers. But Day says this may not be the right time to push a casino.

"I don't know if there's any legs to it at all. It's not a high priority of mine right now to do that, but I've always been in favor of that, I believe that it would bring us in some revenues, but I've just always thought a little competition would be good anyway," Day said.

DFL leaders say a state-run casino isn't the way to balance the budget. While the budget will be the main priority during the session, legislative leaders say several hot-button issues will probably be debated, including the Profile of Learning.

House Minority Leader Matt Entenza, DFL-St. Paul, says there's bipartisan consensus that the show-what-you-know graduation standards need to be changed, but lawmakers have to figure out what will replace them.

"The federal government -- the Bush administration -- has mandated that we have high standards. We have to have something. So you can't abolish one thing without something else, so the Profile will undoubtedly morph into something else that hopefully will finally achieve the balance that we need, because the Profile itself had a lot of parts that needed to be fixed," according to Entenza.

Entenza has also pushed for lowering the state's drunk driving limit from .10 to .08, but says that bill is less likely to pass because it's always a close debate.

Legislative leaders say abortion restrictions will probably pass next session, because abortion opponents are in the majority in the House and Senate. All four say they expect to have a good working relationship with Gov.-elect Pawlenty; after all, he did spend the last decade as one of their colleagues.

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