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Little change in state budget forecast

ST. PAUL - Minnesota legislators and Gov. Tim Pawlenty will have a $2.163 billion surplus to spend in the next two years, state officials announced this morning.

In November, a similar budget forecast showed they would have nearly $2.2 billion.

Now legislators and Pawlenty can get down to real work writing a budget. More than a month ago, Pawlenty suggested spending $34.4 billion in the next two years.

Lawmakers wait until the Finance Department releases its February budget forecast before they start putting specific numbers to their budget priorities. The governor is required to submit his budget in January, but Pawlenty will tweak his requests based on today's report.

The November forecast may have shown a $2.2 billion surplus, but about half of it was only available once, so lawmakers would not use it to fund continuing programs. Much of the rest of the surplus money would be needed to keep up with inflation if lawmakers opted to keep the state budget similar to the current budget.

Tax revenues dropped since the November forecast, so lawmakers and Pawlenty said they were prepared for mildly bad news.

In fact, legislative leaders have been downplaying expectations for the past few weeks. Before the legislative session, Democrats in charge of the Legislature had talked about increasing spending on items such as child health care programs and all-day, every-day kindergarten. But in recent days, leaders have made it clear they cannot fund as much as they wanted.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.