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MPR Poll: Despite financial woes, Pawlenty gets high marks
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Fifty-six percent of poll respondents think Gov. Pawlenty is doing a good or excellent job. (MPR File Photo)
A new MPR-Pioneer Press poll shows more than half of Minnesotans give Gov. Tim Pawlenty's job performance high marks. The numbers are higher than a similar poll conducted nearly a year ago. The poll also shows Minnesotans are divided about the budget fix approved last year to plug a record $4.2 billion budget gap.

St. Paul, Minn. — The poll of 625 registered Minnesota voters conducted last week found 56 percent think Gov. Pawlenty is doing a good or excellent job. A similar Mason-Dixon poll a year ago found 48 percent gave Pawlenty high marks. The poll's margin of sampling error is plus or minus four percentage points.

Since the last poll, Pawlenty got most of his legislative agenda passed and proposed a flurry of initiatives, including education reform and tougher penalties for sex offenders.

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Image On Pawlenty's popularity

Poll respondent Ron Studer of Bemidji says he thinks Pawlenty is doing a pretty good job. "He seems to be paying attention to business. He's come up with a number of initiatives and it just seems that he's an effective governor," Studer says.

But Studer does have some concerns about the way Pawlenty balanced the budget. Pawlenty and Republican legislative leaders pushed a budget plan that erased a projected $4.2 billion deficit without raising state taxes. The plan relied on spending cuts, one-time money and shifting some spending to future years. Studer says he expects his property taxes to go up as a result of state cuts to local governments. He isn't alone. Nearly 60 percent of those polled say they've paid higher fees or property taxes because of the budget fix.

Poll respondents had mixed reactions when asked about the effect of the budget solution. About a fourth of respondents said the state is better off, nearly a third said the state is worse off, and nearly 40 percent said the state is about the same.

Corinne Cyr of Albert Lea says she thinks Pawlenty is moving the state in the wrong direction.

"There are so many layoffs and downsizing of companies, and the schools seem to be suffering too. And I just don't feel like he's in touch with the average resident," says Cyr.

Democrats argued last year that the Republican budget fix would erode Minnesota's quality of life. They've criticized cuts to local governments, health care programs and higher education.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson of Willmar says he's not surprised that a majority of Minnesotans are feeling the effects of the budget through higher fees and property taxes. Yet at the same time, Johnson says most people don't appear to hold Pawlenty responsible.

"They feel the pain in the pocketbook, but they see a gentleman on TV and they hear him on the radio and in public presentations, he's quite eloquent, he's smart, he's thoughtful, can I say he's good looking, if you will; he's attractive as a governor in that respect," says Johnson.

Johnson says Pawlenty's relatively high approval rating may also stem from some of his recent proposals. He says Pawlenty has received a public relations boost from a number of initiatives that many Republicans don't support, such as a prescription drug reimportation plan, transit funding and the death penalty.

Pawlenty spokeswoman Leslie Kupchella calls the poll's findings a pleasant surprise. She says people seem to like what Pawlenty is doing. She says Pawlenty said all along that the budget cuts would be painful, but Kupchella says the poll indicates that people generally support his approach.

"We all knew that we were going to feel some pain, but however, we do agree, it looks like, in large number, that this is going to make us better off, in the end, this is going to be good for the state of Minnesota, and this is not 'the sky is falling' kinds of things that we've heard from the other side," she said.

Kupchella says the 2004 session will be round two in the budget debate, albeit on a smaller scale. The state faces a projected $185 million deficit. That's not much in a $28 billion two-year budget, but all of the easy money has already been used. Democrats have already called for restoring cuts in areas from snowplowing to welfare grants. Pawlenty has said his no-tax-increase pledge still stands.

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