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In Willmar, gov. says legislators should 'ask people who are job providers' for advice

Gov. Tim Pawlenty addresses an audience Wednesday during a luncheon at the Willmar Conference Center. Pawlenty urged lawmakers to look to business leaders for insight on jobs. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- Speaking before a business-friendly crowd Wednesday in Willmar, Gov. Tim Pawlenty said if the state is going to increase jobs, then legislators should "ask the people who are the job providers" for their advice.

"We need business voices at the table," said Pawlenty during a half-hour luncheon speech to the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce.

While focusing on the need to improve Minnesota's business climate, Pawlenty said most legislators don't have a private business background to see the kind of changes that need to be made that will give the state a "leg up" in the brutal, worldwide competition for job growth.

He said state taxes, insurance, permits and workers compensation make the cost of doing business more expensive in Minnesota than in most other states, and while private sector revenue increases 2 to 3 percent a year, the cost of government has been increasing 22 percent.

It's a warning sign that cannot be ignored, said Pawlenty, adding that using "junior high mathematics" shows a trajectory that is not sustainable.

While touting his efforts to trim the state budget by saying "no" to taxes during his terms as governor, Pawlenty said others think Minnesota "isn't taxed enough."

He then quickly added that people should "set aside the partisan rhetoric" and "look at the facts."

Pawlenty applauded Willmar for keeping property taxes at a "reasonable level" even though Local Government Aid has been cut.

But during a question-and-answer session, Willmar Mayor Les Heitke said Willmar's size and resources have allowed the town of nearly 19,000 to weather the LGA cuts. It's been more difficult for small towns that have seen a significant percentage of their total revenue disappear, with little flexibility for increasing revenues, while still bearing the costs of operations, he said.

A new fire truck costs the same for a small town as a large town, Heitke added.

With one of five jobs in Minnesota being related to agriculture, Pawlenty said the state needs to help that industry grow. "We need to be a pro-ag state," said Pawlenty, including promoting livestock agriculture.

He said the state also needs more local entrepreneurs and a "revolutionary" change to how teachers are recruited, trained and paid so that the state can generate an educated and skilled work force.

Doug Allen, president of Ridgewater College, said he appreciated Pawlenty's comments about agriculture and education, but asked why the governor vetoed the school's construction project that would have expanded ag instruction facilities.

Allen said the cut was especially disappointing considering Ridgewater has a 97 percent job placement rate among graduates.

Pawlenty referenced the political game-playing between himself and the Legislature regarding the size of the bonding bill and said simply that "some projects had to go" and he's the one that got stuck with that job.

He said there was a "small chance" a second bonding bill will make it through the Legislature this year. Funding for Ridgewater's project is an issue of timing and not necessarily denial, said Pawlenty.

In a nod toward Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar, Pawlenty took the West Central Tribune to task for a recent editorial that questioned Gimse's effectiveness in getting a veterans home in Willmar.

Pawlenty said there was no agreement between the House and Senate regarding funding for a veterans home in Willmar and the fact the project wasn't approved did not fall solely on the shoulders of Gimse, as Pawlenty said the editorial suggested.

Pawlenty sidestepped questions about his political future, including a possible run for president in 2012.

He didn't, however, shy away from a sharply critical commentary about the federal budget that he said is headed on a "pathway to bankruptcy." Pawlenty said the solution is "not that hard" if the country has the political will to do it. "And I believe we do," he said