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McFeely: Pawlenty remains a Twin Cities governor

Minnesota Gov. Tim (He Who Wants To Be President) Pawlenty took a break from the TV talk show/campaign circuit long enough Tuesday to weigh in on his state's budget woes. The ugly news is a $4.57 billion projected deficit, a figure made less pain...

Minnesota Gov. Tim (He Who Wants To Be President) Pawlenty took a break from the TV talk show/campaign circuit long enough Tuesday to weigh in on his state's budget woes. The ugly news is a $4.57 billion projected deficit, a figure made less painful only by federal stimulus dollars. Without that one-time $1.8 billion check, Minnesota's real deficit is $6.4 billion. And getting bigger.

He Who Wants To Be President again made clear an income tax increase of any sort is not an option as the state tries to claw its way out of this mess. Instead, Minnesota residents are going to have to "tighten their belts."

This stance allows He Who Wants To Be to score political points with his Republican brethren, even if he happens to be dropping the hammer on the fine residents of Moorhead, Dilworth, Glyndon, Hawley, Detroit Lakes, Fergus Falls and dozens of other rural Minnesota cities.

It works like this:

- Pawlenty refuses to consider increasing statewide revenue streams, so he can be viewed as a True Republican when he speaks to national groups such as the Conservative Political Action Conference, which he did last weekend.

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- His recent budget proposal calls for massive, disproportionate cuts to Local Government Aid, state money given to outstate cities so they can provide basic services such as police departments, fire departments and snow removal.

- Because small cities can't withstand the LGA cuts and still provide needed services, they must consider raising property taxes.

Convenient, no? While Pawlenty speaks of no new taxes, what he really means is that he's leaving it up to somebody else to raise taxes. In rural areas, this is often called "passing the buck."

Pawlenty, a former state legislator from the Twin Cities suburb of Eagan, has long turned a cold shoulder to cities outside the metro area. After campaigning for governor on the idea that LGA should be considered untouchable, he's slashed aid to rural cities and counties at every turn.

The first rounds of deep cuts came early in his governorship, forcing Moorhead to cut 10 percent of its city work force. Pawlenty's latest budget proposal calls for a 25 percent reduction in LGA over the next two years. Moorhead stands to lose about $2.4 million in 2009-10.

Pawlenty will submit an updated budget based on Tuesday's new forecast, but it's unlikely he'll change his view toward the areas of the state that aren't within shouting distance of the 494-694 loop.

Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland, state Sen. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, and state Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, all hope the final budget hammered out between the DFL-controlled Legislature and Pawlenty isn't quite so harsh to rural cities.

"I call LGA the great equalizer," Marquart said. "It allows cities like Moorhead, Dilworth and Glyndon - cities that don't have the huge property tax bases of Twin Cities suburbs - to provide services to their citizens. If these cuts are made, it's going to equate to property tax increases and that is not fair to rural Minnesota."

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With He Who Wants To Be President, fairness doesn't enter the equation when it comes to rural Minnesota.

Forum columnist Mike McFeely can be heard from 1-2 p.m. Monday through Friday on WDAY-AM (970). He can be reached at (701) 241-5580 or mmcfeely@forumcomm.com . McFeely's blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/mcfeely

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