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Taxpayer group gives Pawlenty's plan a boost
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Several hundred people rallied at the Capitol today in support of Gov. Pawlenty's no-new-taxes pledge. The crowd carried signs that read, "Liberate Minnesota - support our governor." (MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)
Several hundred Minnesotans showed up at the Capitol Wednesday to let lawmakers know they don't want their taxes raised. The event, dubbed Taxpayer Day at the Capitol, was a stark contrast to the near-daily protests by people opposed to Gov. Tim Pawlenty's budget proposal. As the crowd was chanting "no more taxes," another group of people was telling lawmakers about the pain they'll feel from proposed budget cuts.

St. Paul, Minn. — The crowd that filled the Capitol rotunda carried signs that read, "Liberate Minnesota - support our governor." It was a welcome change for Gov. Pawlenty, who has heard his budget proposal described as mean-spirited and cruel.

Pawlenty's budget would erase a projected $4.2 billion deficit without raising taxes, and he points out that it also increases state spending by more than $1 billion. The governor told the crowd he needs their help to get his budget through the Legislature.

"The world is run by those who show up," Pawlenty said. "We gotta go out and make sure they hear this message -- that the people who are paying the bills think a $1.3 billion increase in spending in times of war and recession and layoffs and budget crisis is enough. So I want you to be there for me."

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Image A warm reception -- for a change

Pawlenty said Minnesota already has one of the highest tax burdens in the country, and raising taxes to balance the budget isn't the answer. During his campaign, Pawlenty signed a no-tax-increase pledge drawn up by the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, one of the sponsors of the Capitol rally.

In recent years, the conservative group has drawn several thousand people to Capitol rallies held on a Saturday. This is the first time the league has held an event during the week. Organizers say they wanted to counter the Pawlenty budget protests at a time when legislators were around.

One of the participants, Jack Stassen of Inver Grove Heights, said this was his first trip to the Capitol to lobby lawmakers. Stassen said fiscal conservatives are a silent majority in Minnesota.

"We have been silent for too long, but I think that that trend is changing, and today is a pretty good example of that," Stassen said.

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Image Cassie

As Stassen and others showed their support for the Pawlenty budget, a few members of the Welfare Rights Committee tried to drown them out by shouting, "tax the rich." Taxpayers Day participants responded by telling them to get a job, chanting, "go back to work!"

The Welfare Rights Committee says Pawlenty's budget would cut programs for the poor to protect tax breaks for the rich. While the governor's budget would increase overall state spending, it would cut most areas of state government. His health and human services budget would grow by 8 percent, but that's far less than the projected demand for those services.

Pawlenty proposes eliminating a state health care program for low-income adults without children, and increasing premiums and co-pays for other health care programs. Nearly 90 people signed up to discuss their concerns about health and human services cuts before the House Health and Human Services committee, prompting the committee to limit each person's testimony to a few minutes.

Traci Heagle of Inver Grove Heights brought her daughter Cassie, 6, who has multiple disabilities.

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Image Alex

"There's no way to get up there and tell her story ... you have to live it 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to totally understand it and appreciate what these kids need," Heagle said. "Trying to outline it in three minutes is really hard."

Heagle said she receives a state grant to stay home and care for Cassie, but has been told that her grant will be cut by more than 50 percent. Another woman brought her 3-year-old autistic son.

"My name is Kim Stanley, this is my son Alex. We are here today to talk to you about the services for special needs children. ... Have you ever had a song stuck in your head that never goes away?" she asked.

Stanley said her son receives Medical Assistance, which pays for a personal care assistant to care for him a few hours a day. She's also on a long waiting list for a program that would provide more skilled training for her son. Gov. Pawlenty is recommending a two percent rate cut for personal care assistants.

Republican lawmakers on the committee told the people testifying that if they don't like the governor's proposal, they should suggest other ways to balance the budget.

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