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Got a solution to state's budget mess? Lawmakers want to hear from you

By Don Davis

and Scott Wente

St. Paul Capitol Bureau

ST. PAUL -- Legislators need help.

Minnesota lawmakers are desperate for ideas about how to balance a nearly $5.3 billion budget deficit. So top House Democrats want citizens' ideas.

"Minnesotans are known for pitching in during difficult times," Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, said. "Now is the time for citizens to send their best ideas to the Capitol."

A link to the budget solutions comment page is at the top of the House Web site, Those without Internet connections may contact their local lawmakers or write to Minnesota Budget Solutions, Minnesota House of Representatives, 470 State Office Building, 100 the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., St. Paul 55155,

"The economy is affecting all of us; the budget deficit will be no different," said Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm. "That's why it's so important to give every Minnesotan a simple, but effective way to share their solutions."

Democrats, who control the Legislature, promise to hold hearings about the state once Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty releases his budget in January in an effort to gauge public response.

Vilsack praised

Minnesota politicians say former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack should be good for the state as agriculture secretary.

"Gov. Vilsack is a strong advocate who understands the changing landscape of our nation's rural economy," said Collin Peterson, the western Minnesota Democrat who heads the House Agriculture Committee.

Added U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.: "As the former governor from our neighboring state of Iowa, Gov. Vilsack understands the unique agricultural and livestock issues that face our working farmers and ranchers. His leadership on developing the next generation of renewable fuels can help create jobs while reducing our dependence on foreign oil."

President-elect Barack Obama picked Vilsack, but senators must approve the nomination.