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Pawlenty tours outstate Minnesota
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Gov.-elect Tim Pawlenty checks out the controls of an SR-22 airplane, manufactured by Duluth-based Cirrus. (MPR Photo/Chris Julin)

Moorhead, Minn. — Days before he officially takes office, Gov.-elect Tim Pawlenty completed a two-day tour of outstate Minnesota Friday.

During a stop in Moorhead on Friday, Pawlenty hinted at a brewing confrontation with some cities and towns, as he attempts to close a $4.5 billion shortfall.

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Two weeks ago, Pawlenty tried to get Gov. Jesse Ventura to withhold state aid to cities and towns. Ventura rejected the request.

In Moorhead, Pawlenty said some cities are not paying their fair share. "One of the concerns I have, though -- and I'm not pointing fingers at any particular city yet -- the formula has been so tweaked and manipulated over the years that we've kind of lost sight of the original intent of the program. And so you go into certain cities and they have the state paying 70-80 percent of their entire city budget," he said.

Pawlenty assured local officials he does not intend to eliminate local government aid, but he says the program must be changed to better reflect its original intent.

Changes in local government aid distribution could result in large property taxes increases in some Minnesota cities.

During his stop, Pawlenty toured a long-term care facility, saying the industry is changing to better serve senior citizens.

"For the first time since I was a legislator, in 10 years, an industry by itself took on this challenge of reform and brought to the Legislature a package of change to start changing this reform and regulatory and reimbursement system," he said.

Pawlenty says nursing homes are moving from a one-size-fits-all system to a more flexible approach that will better meet the needs of senior citizens while keeping costs down.

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Pawlenty says additional reforms are needed, but the long-term care association is changing the status quo. The governor-elect says that's the approach he wants to see from state and local government in a time of budget crisis.

Pawlenty focused on a different issue on each of his stops. On Thursday, he stressed economic issues during an appearance in Duluth.

He praised Duluth-based aircraft manufacturer Cirrus Design Corp. as the sort of job creator he will promote during his administration.

Pawlenty said he wants to help manufacturers, including Cirrus, bring more high-paying jobs to the region. He said Minnesota has lost about 38,000 manufacturing jobs during the past four years.

"We are hemorrhaging manufacturing jobs, and it can't continue," said the Republican from Eagan.

Pawlenty said he's tired of watching Minnesota lose jobs to other nations and neighboring states, including Iowa, Wisconsin and the Dakotas.

Against that backdrop, he said Cirrus stands out as a notable success. "Here we've got a manufacturing company that's been adding jobs," he said. "I want to support that growth, applaud it and be a part of it."

Cirrus employs about 620 people in Duluth and 200 in Grand Forks, N.D.

Pawlenty promoted the creation of tax-free zones that would encourage Cirrus and other manufacturing businesses to expand in economically disadvantaged areas.

Despite a $4.56 billion deficit in the next biennium, Pawlenty plans to oppose any remedy that relies on new taxes, calling Minnesota "one of the highest-tax states in the nation."

"We've been losing jobs because of our anti-competitive business environment," he said.

Alan Klapmeier, who founded Cirrus with his brother, Dale, said he was encouraged by the future governor's visit.

Alan Klapmeier particularly liked Pawlenty's focus on manufacturing - a business sector often neglected in recent years by politicians enamored by technology companies.

At a stop in Bemidji, Pawlenty said rural communities suffer from declining school enrollments, shrinking populations and an exodus of jobs.

"We need to enhance and protect economic opportunity," he said at Bemidji Woolen Mills' Industrial Park workshop. "We are very serious and bold about that, and we want to jack it up a couple notches."

Pawlenty said residents along his tour route expressed concern about the impact of looming budget cuts on Minnesota's quality of life.

"People understand that we're facing a big challenge and that a change is coming, but they also understand that we want to try to preserve the best of what we have in those areas," he said.

Pawlenty will curtailed his "listening tour" following the death of his father-in-law. Pawlenty cancelled a Friday afternoon appearance a St Cloud school, after visiting Fergus Falls and Alexandria.

Pawlenty will take the oath of office Monday.

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