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Pawlenty's upbeat in first State of the State address
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In the speech, sprinkled with his trademark pop culture references and deep historical context, Gov. Tim Pawlenty called the $4.56 billion budget deficit big, mean and ugly. "It's the Incredible Hulk of budget deficits." (House-Senate TV)
Gov. Tim Pawlenty says Minnesota is one of the best states in the country, despite challenges it faces. Pawlenty delivered his first State of the State address to a joint session of the Legislature. He implored Minnesotans to accept sacrifices to help the state fix its budget problems. But he reiterated that if he has his way the sacrifices will not include higher taxes.

St. Paul, Minn. — Gov. Pawlenty, who's known for his colorful choice of words, didn't disappoint in his first State of the State, saying Minnesota is "awesome."

"But as Bob Dylan wrote, 'the times they are a changin'," he said.

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Pawlenty says Minnesota faces the challenges of clogged freeways, schools in crisis, soaring health care costs, environmental issues and overflowing prisons. He says the most pressing problem is the budget.

"The largest budget deficit in the history of the state -- times two or three -- is staring us in the face. It's huge. It's big. It's mean. It's ugly. It's the Incredible Hulk of budget deficits," he said.

Pawlenty says the reason for the deficit is that the state has spent too much, not taxed too little. He pointed out that Minnesota revenues are expected to go up nearly seven percent in the next two year budget. Yet state spending is expected to increase more than 14 percent during the same time.

"This isn't brain surgery, folks. The state is simply spending more than it is taking in. And now we need to do what any Minnesota family who faces a financial challenge would do: sit down at the kitchen table and figure it out. Families can't raise taxes to get out of a jam, and we won't either," he said.

Republican legislators applauded the governor's no-tax-increase stance. Democrats weren't as enthusiastic. DFL Senate Majority Leader John Hottinger of St. Peter says Minnesota's spending growth was less than the national average over the last decade. Hottinger says Minnesota cut taxes by $13 billion in the past few years.

"I found it ironic as he said, 'no, we're not going to ask for tax increases,' that he highlighted the fact that someone sent him a buck. And I think Minnesotans are willing to help out, and he's not willing to at least look at that option," Hottinger said.

Gov. Pawlenty singled out Phyllis Bakke of Northfield, who wrote to him recently. After she read about the state's deficit, she sent Pawlenty a dollar, which he held up during his speech. Bakke says she wanted to help the governor balance the budget.

"I had heard the population of our state, and that sort of reminded me that if each one would give a $1 bill, it would help the state," she said.

Perhaps we've all become too comfortable, too entitled, too quick to rely on government and too slow to take responsibility for ourselves.
- Gov. Pawlenty

Pawlenty told Bakke when the state has solved its budget crisis, he'll give her dollar back to her. Pawlenty challenged Minnesotans to give him their ideas for balancing the budget. He said Minnesotans understand the need to sacrifice when times are tough. He recognized two Minnesotans who survived the Bataan Death March during World War II - Alf Larson and Harold "Snuff" Kurvers.

"Minnesotans have courage. They understand the commitment two principle and the need to sacrifice in times of crisis," he said.

Snuff Kurvers, 84, a retired postal worker who lives in St. Paul, says he appreciates that the governor brought attention to their ordeal. "They'll never know what we went through, because you had to be there to really appreciate what we went through. And they refer to us as heroes; the heroes are still over there. The survivors are here."

Pawlenty touched on his other priorities -- education, job creation, public safety and transportation. He says Minnesota used to be the epicenter of innovation in education, but has become complacent. Pawlenty wants to get rid of the Profile of Learning show-what-you-know graduation standards, a proposal that's already moving through the Minnesota House.

He asked parents to do their part to make sure children are ready to learn. And the governor called for a new approach to educating needy children. "As good as our schools have been, we're leaving too many children behind. And the sad reality is, they tend to be poor, disabled or children of color. I will not stand by and allow another generation of disadvantaged children to be cast aside," he said.

Many DFL lawmakers stood and applauded Pawlenty's education comments. But House Minority Leader Matt Entenza of St. Paul says at the same time the governor talked about helping low-income children, Pawlenty is considering cutting some school aid to balance the budget this year.

"The funding cuts the governor is proposing for education would have a devastating impact not only on inner-city schools, but throughout greater Minnesota, because the funding that he's talking about impacts at least 50 or 60 rural schools and many suburban schools. So the rhetoric of helping kids while you take their lunch money is a bad thing," said Entenza.

Entenza is also concerned about what he considers a veiled reference to school vouchers. Pawlenty said he wants to give parents more school options. Entenza fears that means diverting state money to private schools.

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Image Back in the House

The governor also highlighted parts of his agenda that have already been embraced by House Republicans, a proposal to create tax-free job creation zones in greater Minnesota, and a requirement that the visa expiration dates of temporary visitors be listed on their drivers' licenses.

Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum of Kenyon says Gov. Pawlenty laid out a common-sense road map that the public supports. "When the citizens listen to the governor talk about education reform, enhancing our public safety, enhancing our transportation system and not balancing the budget on the backs of hard-working families in the state, that they can't pay more taxes, that's where Minnesotans generally are."

Some Minnesotans don't agree with Pawlenty's agenda. Several dozen protestors from the Welfare Rights Committee shouted outside the House chamber before and during the governor's speech.

One of the people outside the House chamber, Anne Forest of St. Paul, says she doesn't support Pawlenty's proposal for stricter work requirements on welfare recipients. Forest says she was on welfare when her daughter was young, and later became a teacher. She says Pawlenty's proposal wouldn't allow women to stay home to raise their children.

"They're forcing women out into minimum wage or even lower-wage jobs with no health care benefits, and on those wages you can't afford quality day care, and you can't afford health care for your children," she said.

Gov. Pawlenty didn't talk about his welfare reform proposal during his speech. But he did suggest that people have become "too entitled, too quick to rely on government and too slow to take responsibility ourselves." He challenged Minnesotans to do their part to be good citizens.

"Shut off the TV and the computer and find somebody who needs your attention. Learn about another culture and get to know and trust someone different than you. Buy something on East Lake Street rather than on EBay. Instead of going to a 'feel good' movie, do something good and feel the real thing," he said.

Pawlenty's top aides say the governor wanted to deliver an upbeat speech that inspired Minnesotans. As chief of staff Charlie Weaver said, the governor will deliver a budget message next week that will be plenty negative; there's no need to be negative two weeks in a row.

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