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Pawlenty, DFLers campaign around the state
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Before beginning and around-the-state tour, the DFL leadership held a news conference at the Capitol. Left to right: Senate Majority Leader John Hottinger, Senate Minority Leader Ann Rest, and House Minority Leader Matt Entenza. (MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)
Gov. Pawlenty and DFL legislative leaders began separate tours of the state on Monday to talk about the 2003 session. The governor achieved much of his legislative agenda, and is highlighting the accomplishments of the session. Democrats, on the other hand, believe the Republican-backed budget will erode Minnesota's quality of life.

St. Paul, Minn. — DFL leaders kicked off a 19-city tour by calling it the beginning of "a long fight for Minnesota's soul." Senate Majority Leader John Hottinger of St. Peter says Democrats failed in their attempt to use a combination of tax increases and spending cuts to balance the budget. He says while Republicans prevailed in their push for no new state taxes, Minnesotans will soon find the budget does affect their pocketbooks.

"The Pawlenty no-tax budget misled Minnesotans because it hid increases in tuition, increases in the most-hated tax -- property taxes -- increases in fees, under the rubric of no taxes," he said.

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Image Gov. Pawlenty

Hottinger says DFLers will highlight those hidden tax increases, and focus on the impact of what he described as extreme cuts in health care and education. Hottinger asked two women who work with seniors to talk about the budget. Patti Fritz, a nurse at a Faribault nursing home, says nursing homes aren't being held harmless, as Republicans claim.

"In my nursing home, 83 percent of the residents that I care for receive Medical Assistance to pay for their care. In this budget, nursing homes will lose $30-40 million in the next biennium through the various cuts in the Medical Assistance program. Add the Medicare cuts to that, and my grandmas and grandpas won't be able to spend but five days healing from a fractured hip or a stroke or a heart attack," she said.

Lynn Zimmerman from the Minnesota Adult Day Services Association says the Legislature cut state payments for some community-based services for the elderly. She says that will make many seniors more isolated and more vulnerable. DFL leaders say they'll tell Minnesotans that there are ways to balance the budget without harming the state's safety net for the poor, sick and elderly.

House Minority Leader Matt Entenza of St. Paul says Republicans won't want to campaign on this budget in the 2004 election.

"I think the moment they announced that they wanted to dismantle the bipartisan way that we've run government in the past, they created the issue that will turn the 2004 election, and that's why the House Republicans know that their majority is in jeopardy."

If you look at the reforms and changes that we drove this session, every one of them would be supported by a majority of Minnesotans with a couple of exceptions that the DFL says are not mainstream.
- Gov. Pawlenty

Republicans control the House with a 28-seat majority, so Democrats would have to pick up 15 seats to regain control. Democrats plan to cover every corner of the state by car over the next few days.

Meanwhile, on his tour, Gov. Pawlenty says the effects of the budget won't be nearly as dire as Democrats are predicting.

Upbeat, Gov. Pawlenty told reporters he'll spend the next couple of days touting what he says are numerous legislative accomplishments. And as Pawlenty makes his way around the state, he says he'll be telling Minnesotans the sky is not falling.

"The sky is falling approach of the DFL is not going to work. Their message is basically that 'the Republicans have ruined the state and, by the way, there's going to be demise and dispair and discouragement and everything's terrible, everything stinks,' and I don't think that's a very positive, hopeful vision for the future of the state of Minnesota," Pawlenty said.

Pawlenty cited legislation that requires school children to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, creates tax-free economic development zones, and tightens work requirements for welfare recipients.

"As people say all we did was cut, there's also dramatic reforms," he said, including the merging of a number of state agencies and the streamlining of administration functions at others.

Pressed on how the new budget might affect state employees, Pawlenty estimated between 1,000 and 3,000 will be laid off.

On his stops, Pawlenty is distributing a flyer outlining his administration's accomplishments. "If you look at the reforms on this piece of paper, if you look at the reforms and changes that we drove this session, every one of them would be supported by a majority of Minnesotans with a couple of exceptions that the DFL says are not mainstream. And I suspect that if you tell Minnesotans (that) instead of a 14-percent increase in our budget for the upcomming cycle, we now have a 5-percent increase in our budget for the upcomming cycle, is that a reasonable thing? Most Minnesotans would say 'yes.'"

As for the criticism that the Republican budget effectively replaced tax increases with higher government fees, Pawlenty acknowledges the budget will rely on between $300 and $500 million in increased fees and that doesn't included likely tuition hikes at public colleges and universities.

"I don't think that violates what I said during the campaign. It's consistent with it. that we would be open to some fee increases, but we weren't going to solve the whole budget deficit with them. I think fee increases being 10 percent of the solution was a reasonable compromise," he said.

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Image A budget-cutting victim?

Pawlenty also says local governments facing state aid cuts, could choose to cut spending rather than to raise property taxes. And he's threatening to visit communities later this year that dramatically increase property taxes, to expose "unnecessary local government spending."

Carleton College political science professor Steven Schier says the public isn't paying much attention to the budget right now because its effects aren't fully known.

"Events will occur in the next few months that will focus people's attention -- property tax bills, service reductions and so forth. So I think politicians -- both the governor and the DFL leaders -- hope that they can sort of prime the pump, if you will, of perceptions by saying, 'get ready for this because it's coming at you and you should know who to blame when it happens,'" he said.

Schier says the Republican and DFL tours are focused on rural Minnesota because that's where some of the budget cuts will hit the hardest.

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