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Role reversal ahead in budget debate

St. Paul, Minn. — (AP) The tables begin turning this week in the budget debate. After a month of dissecting - and in many cases denouncing - Gov. Tim Pawlenty's budget proposal, legislators will provide a hint of what they'd do differently.

The Legislature's main task this year is to pass a two-year budget while simultaneously bridging a projected $4.23 billion gap between anticipated revenues and current spending commitments. Pawlenty, a Republican, is adamant about erasing the deficit without raising state taxes.

Leaders of the DFL Senate and Republican House hope to set budget "targets" by midweek. The targets represent the amount of money they intend to devote to each budget category, such as higher education, health programs and general government operations.

Each chamber's framework will touch off a scramble in finance committees that have only a few weeks to fill in the line-by-line details.

The House will take "some detours" from Pawlenty on funding for agriculture, nursing home, colleges and local governments, said Majority Leader Erik Paulsen, R-Eden Prairie. But don't count on many differences or any move to hike taxes.

"We'll be 99.5 percent along with the governor," Paulsen said.

The Senate approach will be to temper social service cuts and correct what they see as inequities that hit rural and urban areas harder than suburbs, said Majority Leader John Hottinger, DFL-St. Peter.

But Hottinger said they won't be able to answer everyone's prayers.

"There's no way to satisfy all the constituencies. We're not looking for a way to satisfy everyone's concerns," Hottinger said. "We are going to be making substantial cuts under any circumstances."

They aren't expected to propose a tax increase yet, but they aren't closing the door. Assistant Majority Leader Ann Rest of New Hope characterized the ongoing debate among DFL senators over potential tax increases as "vigorous."

In any case, this week's budget exercise finally gives Pawlenty company in the debate.

"Bottom line is, it's easy for them to vote `no' or criticize what we're doing," Pawlenty said. "But they have an obligation to put together something they can pass. We're anxious to see them do it."

Besides the budget, there will be a flurry of activity at the Capitol because the first committee deadline hits Friday. Bills that don't make it through at least one policy committee by then have little chance of surviving.

Some things to watch:

-The full House votes Monday on a bill creating a 24-hour waiting period for abortions. The clock would start ticking when women receive information about specific risks and alternatives to the procedure.

-The Senate Jobs, Housing and Community Development Committee on Tuesday considers Pawlenty's centerpiece economic development plan, which would create tax-free zones to draw businesses to downtrodden areas of Minnesota.

-The Senate Judiciary Committee takes up a campaign finance reform plan Tuesday that would provide more public financing for political campaigns. The proposal moves in the opposite direction from a Pawlenty plan to cut subsidies.

-The House Judiciary Policy and Finance Committee discusses proposals Wednesday to authorize double bunking in prisons, restrict the type of food inmates get and permit some offenders to serve their time in county jail rather than state prison.

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