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Governor unveils Citizens' Budget Outreach Web site
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Gov. Pawlenty broadcast his weekly radio show on Friday from the Mall of America. (MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik)
Gov. Tim Pawlenty says he's hoping Minnesotans will share their ideas about the state budget by logging onto a new Web site put together to collect citizen input. The site is designed to survey Minnesotans about state revenue and spending priorities.

Bloomington, Minn. — State officials say when the budget forecast is released next week, Minnesota could face a projected shortfall of more than $1 billion over the next two years. That's about a fourth of the deficit lawmakers contended with in the current budget cycle. But even though it's smaller, the state has less one-time money available to help cover the shortfall this time around, so there'll be plenty of pressure to cut programs or raise taxes.

At the governor's new Web site, visitors are asked to respond to several questions on issues the state lawmakers will ultimately be making decisions on next year.

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Among them: "What's the most important state issue?" and "How would you spend the state's budget?"

Gov. Pawlenty says he wants citizen input before he puts together the budget proposal he'll submit early next year to the Legislature.

"We've got a big challenge facing the state of Minnesota in terms of our budget. Our revenues are growing but our spending's growing even faster, so we have to make some decisions and set some priorities and we just thought it would be a good idea to reach out to citizens and ask them, if you were the Legislature what would your priorities be in terms of how you spend our now nearly $30 billion budget."

Pawlenty announced the Web site during his weekly radio show, broadcast from the busy Mall of America.

The governor's staff had several laptop computers online at the mall and ready for visitors to take the survey. Many of the stations sat idle.

Steve Jacobson from Burnsville, however, took some time to go to the site. He likes the idea. He told the governor via the web that he wants light-rail transit expanded and he wants a casino opened up at Canterbury Park horse racing track in Shakopee.

"I would like to see that because I think it will help the state, not just tax-wise, but farmers and breeding the horses and getting more people in the state for tourism," he said.

"I think that's great that he's soliciting the information. I just hope that he uses it," said Barb Northway, who lives in west of Minneapolis in the town of Greenfield. She she'll probably go to the new Web site to express her belief that cutting taxes is not the best approach to solving budget problems.

"I probably would say the mass transit issue and education needs to be funded at a much greater level than it is now," she said.

Gov. Pawlenty is promising he'll pay attention to the information that's collected. He says he has no idea how many people will take the survey, but that whether it's 1,000 or 500,000 he'll welcome the suggestions.

"There's no question we're going to read it. We're going to tabulate all the results and plus there's a place for comments that we will also read and summarize and I will personally review the results of this. We just want to make sure we have a good pulse of how Minnesotans are feeling about these issues. This is one way to do it."

The governor says the new "Citizens Budget Outreach" Web site will up and available at least through the end of January.

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