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Minnesota budget improves ... a little

By Don Davis

Forum State Capitol Bureau

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota's budget numbers are a bit better today, but not enough for state officials to celebrate.

Minnesota Management and Budget officials on Tuesday announced the state faces a $994 million deficit, down from a December prediction of $1.2 billion.

The nearly $1 billion shortfall still will be tough for legislators and Gov. Tim Pawlenty to plug because it is just the latest of several budget problems.

Pawlenty last summer unilaterally cut $2.7 billion from the current two-year budget, which will spend a bit more than $30 billion. That leaves little more that policymakers are willing to trim.

The Republican governor says he wants to fix the budget problem only by cutting programs. Many Democrats, who control the Legislature, say some tax increases are needed on top of the budget cuts.

Tuesday's numbers lay the groundwork for what lawmakers and Pawlenty will do the rest of this legislative session, which ends May 17. Their main job is tweaking the budget passed last year to take into account the new deficit.

The Minnesota constitution does not allow the state budget to end its two-year period with a deficit.

While current numbers are bad enough, the next two-year budget is expected to face a $5.8 billion.