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State deficit doesn't stop some groups

By Don Davis

St. Paul Capitol Bureau

ST. PAUL - Minnesota legislators face a historically large deficit, and most groups that normally would be at the Capitol with hat in hand say they realize their funding will be cut.

But a few groups feel that what they do is so important that they need more state money despite a budget deficit now standing at $4.85 billion and expected to grow.

Education Minnesota, the state teachers' union, is one of those groups that continues to seek more money.

President Tom Dooher said the state needs to provide schools with "more resources," political-speak for "more money."

Dooher said many education supporters say schools need 4 percent to 6 percent more funding in the next two-year budget.

The Senate's top education finance member did not expect Dooher's request to be fulfilled.

"At this point, I don't think so," Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, said of the request.

The size of an increase some educators seek would cost $650 million, he said. "That has to be added to the $4.8 billion we are short already."

Education supporters are not the only ones to ask for more money, Stumpf said. "I don't think the reality of the situation has really hit home yet."

Can't count?

Minnesota's unresolved Senate race was featured -- well, mocked -- by Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."

"It's January and how hard is it to count to 3 million?" host Jon Stewart joked. "You're supposed to be one of the smart states."

Seeking savings

Minnesota Sen. Steve Dille wants to end the state's political contributions refund program as a way to save $12 million in the next budget.

The program reimburses Minnesota taxpayers up to $50 a year for donations to candidates running for state offices and money given to major state parties. That money comes out of the state budget, the Dassel Republican said.

Minnesota has given the reimbursement since 1990, the same time the state set limits to how much can be donated to politicians and how much they can spend.

Not all smooth

Opening day of the Minnesota Legislature went pretty smoothly Tuesday, but there were a few bumps.

Senate bickering emerged minutes after Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau convened the 2009 Senate. Senators argued over how to fill the position of retired Senate Secretary Pat Flahaven.

Faced with a massive budget deficit, they also quibbled about deadlines for releasing budget-balancing proposals and over whether to limit Senate travel expenses and even whether to cut the number of stamps issued to senators for constituent mailings.

Republicans said legislative spending should be cut.

"Let's start with the low-hanging fruit," Senate Minority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said.

Broadband wanted

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., used her first speech of the new congressional session to advocate for more broadband funding.

Klobuchar said that building a better broadband system would be a good way to help the economy. She wants an expected economic stimulus bill to include broadband funding, especially for rural communities.

"In these tough economic times, broadband deployment will create jobs - not only the direct creation of jobs in the tech sector, but also the creation of even more indirect employment opportunities by increasing access to broadband," Klobuchar said. "After visiting rural communities in Minnesota to discuss economic conditions during the last two months, I heard first-hand from people about the importance of making sure they have access to fast and affordable broadband."

Matter of perspective

Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, nominated Colleen Pacheco as an assistant Minnesota Senate secretary.

Langseth, one of the two most senior senators, said Pacheco has been with the Senate longer than any senator.

"The strange thing about it, she's still a young woman," Langseth said.