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House speaker uneasy with key features of Pawlenty budget
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House Speaker Steve Sviggum shown during an appearance on MPR's Midday broadcast from the MPR Capitol bureau. Sviggum discussed budget issues with Asst. Senate Majority Leader Ann Rest. (MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)

St. Paul, Minn. — (AP) - The leader of the Republican House majority is cool to features of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's budget that are touted as safeguards against soaring local property taxes. House Speaker Steve Sviggum said Monday that he won't back a directive that would freeze wages of public employees at the local government and school district levels. And he said he is uncomfortable with so-called levy limits that would cap property tax increases imposed by county and city officials.

"Local elected decision-makers are elected to make those decisions locally," said Sviggum, of Kenyon. "That is their job. If not, I can be state representative, city councilor and county commissioner all at once."

Sviggum was careful to note that he wasn't staking out an official House Republican position. But as the leader of the 81-member caucus, his views tend to carry considerable weight.

Pawlenty, a first-term Republican, has vowed to wipe out Minnesota's $4.23 billion projected deficit without raising state taxes. But some argue that his plan passes the buck to local officials who will resort to property tax increases to compensate for lost state aid.

Local elected officials aren't going to devastate public services just because the governor is so inflexible.
- Sen. Larry Pogemiller

"He transfers his problems to every local official in the state. That's not accountability, that's shirking responsibility," said Senate Taxes Committee Chairman Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis. "Local elected officials aren't going to devastate public services just because the governor is so inflexible."

To counter such criticism, Pawlenty often points to his proposed levy limits, which would vary across the state. He also wants to allow voters to overturn local tax increases through "reverse referendums," which Sviggum likes.

Similarly, Pawlenty proposed the wage freeze as a tool to hold down labor costs in cash-strapped cities, counties and school districts. Without it, property taxes would be under more pressure or more layoffs would occur, proponents contend.

Sviggum said the state wouldn't realize any direct savings from local wage freezes so state lawmakers shouldn't take the heat for dictating them. The speaker does support a wage freeze for state workers.

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