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For budget fixers, it's goodbye molehill, hello mountain

St. Paul, Minn. — ST. PAUL (AP) - If last week's budget medicine was a painful prick of the finger, the next dose might be more like an amputation without anesthesia.

On Tuesday of next week, Gov. Tim Pawlenty is set to outline his plan to cut more than $4.2 billion from the budget for 2004 and 2005, without raising taxes. That amounts to about a dollar of every seven in state spending.

The announcement had been due this Tuesday but the Pawlenty administration pushed it back a week on Monday, saying it needed time for revisions reflecting cuts Pawlenty made last week to cover a $356 million shortfall. The governor took advantage of his right to act alone after lawmakers failed to agree to their own plan.

In his State of the State speech last week, Pawlenty sought to depict any coming hurt as being inflicted on government itself. But as sure as the ink flows red, special interests will trot out the disabled child, the grandmother in the nursing home and the overachieving but-just-barely-making-it student from the university to put faces on the plans.

Though details of Pawlenty's budget weren't available, his priorities are clear. Look for major savings from changes in health care programs, most of which help the elderly, the poor and the disabled.

The recipe could also include tapping most or all of an anti-tobacco fund, freezing wages for state employees, farming out more state work to the private sector and cutting local government aid for cities and counties.

He could also borrow against future tobacco payments to get perhaps another billion or so.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg," Pawlenty said last week in announcing the cuts to an Iron Range development fund, subsidies for ethanol production, college grants and human service programs.

But the legislative stalemate that forced Pawlenty to act suggests there will be no quick action in the next round.

House Speaker Steve Sviggum said the DFL was in "complete denial" about the scope of the deficit.

"If we had problems putting together the package of last evening, we're going to have some very significant problems," he said.

Added veteran Sen. Dean Johnson: "In my 25 years here, I have never seen us more polarized. We have to figure out some common ground."

Johnson, DFL-Willmar, said the next budget "is going to change government like it's never been done before."

His fellow Democrats indicated they'll take their time responding, planning to hold hearings on the implications of Pawlenty's plan. They have until mid-May to complete their work, but Pawlenty noted that the Moody's investment bond house is reviewing the state's platinum bond rating, and could downgrade it - raising the cost of borrowing - unless the Legislature acts fairly quickly.

Also coming this week:

-A bill that would rescind much of the state's authority to gather health information about people heads for a vote in the House Health and Human Services Policy Committee on Monday. The bill's author, Republican Rep. Bill Haas of Champlin, says the information gathering, which is used for such things as tracking outbreaks of infectious diseases, infringes on privacy rights.

-On Tuesday, the House Civil Law committee takes up the session's first major gun bill. The bill would force a sheriff to issue a permit to carry a handgun to someone unless they are disqualified for a specific reason, such as a criminal record. Now, it is up to the discretion of police to issue the permits.

-In the Senate, a commerce committee on Monday takes up Sen. John Marty's bill to close loopholes in the do-not-call law. The law allows telemarketers to continue to call people who have put their numbers on the list if they represent a business with a prior relationship with the person. The Roseville Democrat wants to ban those calls if they're dialed by computer.

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