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St. Paul, Minn. — The leadership in both the House and Senate say Pawlenty's cuts were not partisan. That, however, didn't reduce the pain agencies felt by the cuts. Gov. Pawlenty made the most significant cuts to the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. Pawlenty cut $25 million from each. Officials for the U of M and MNSCU say they weren't surprised by the cuts. MNSCU spokeswoman Linda Kohl says they have limited options for making cuts at this time. "Our semester is started. Students are in the classrooms and we have set tuition, so we can't raise tuition . We can't close programs at this point because we have contracts with these students. Our colleges and universities are going to have to do a combination of things, probably," she said.
Kohl says MNSCU will initiate a hiring freeze, travel ban, and may cut administrative personnel. She says the colleges and universities that have a budget reserve will dip into that as well. A spokeswoman for the U of M says officials have already started to allocate cuts and says "there will be real pain."
Gov. Pawlenty also moved forward with his proposal to cut the state's ethanol payments. But the trim was $6 million less than first proposed. Rural lawmakers balked when Pawlenty first announced his plan to cut the subsidies last month. They put a large part of the funding back into their failed budget balancing plan. Pawlenty says he supports the ethanol industry but said other budget items were more important.
"I can't stand here as the governor of Minnesota and justify reductions in programs for very needy people while at the same time providing cash subsidies to an industry for the most part is very profitable," Pawlenty said.
"The governor is saying one thing yet he's going another," said Rod Jorgenson, president of the Minnesota Coalition for Ethanol. Jorgenson says Pawlenty continues to make speeches about helping the rural economy but is making cuts to what he says is a successful rural industry.
Jorgenson says Pawlenty's action will cut 75 percent of the state's ethanol payments. He says several plants, including the Buffalo Lakes plant, are considering closure.
Jorgenson says the state is backing out of a deal. "Just looking at it as an investor why would we want to stick any more money into this industry if there's no support from the state?"
Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, says he's disappointed Pawlenty decided to cut $49 million from the state's 21st Century Minerals Fund. Rukavina says the fund was meant to bring economic diversity to the Iron Range. Because the money is in a dedicated fund, and not in the general fund, Rukavina says by law, it cannot be cut by unallotment. He says they have the potential to stop Pawlenty from using the money.
"We think we do. We're not the kind to take this lying down especially when former promises were made. We'll see what happens," he said.
Finance Commissioner Dan McElroy says he believes the governor has the right to use the money in the Fund since the money came from general fund dollars.
When asked about a lawsuit, McElroy responded bluntly. "I have waited my whole life for the opportunity to quote Clint Eastwood, 'Go ahead, make my day.'"
Gov. Pawlenty says cuts to health and human services were the most difficult to make. Social service agencies say cuts to those programs will have a negative impact on low income Minnesotans.
Marcia Avner, with the Minnesota Council of Non-Profits, says Pawlenty's cuts to Community Action Agencies will impact 750,000 lower-income families. She says the agencies use the funding for food shelves, energy assistance and homeless shelters.
"We are concerned that we're looking at cutting enormous amounts from programs that affect low and moderate income people. I hate to think about this, but this is really the warm up," Avner said.
Avner says Pawlenty also cut money that schools use to help at-risk children. She says she's concerned Pawlenty's cuts will go even deeper when he proposes his budget for the next biennium on Tuesday.