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Lillie: Start making tough choices for future

Ted Lillie said he is ready to ask questions, make difficult decisions and apply small-business experience to work as a state senator.

Lillie, who is challenging first-term Sen. Kathy Saltzman of Woodbury, said she and other lawmakers put off making tough decisions about state government spending and operations.

"We can't wait to make those decisions," he said, advocating for spending cuts and government reform.

Lillie is co-owner of Lillie Suburban Newspapers, a chain of community newspapers. (The Woodbury Bulletin is not a Lillie newspaper.) A longtime Republican Party activist, Lillie said he is running for office this year because the economy is a "real concern" for Minnesotans.

The Minnesota Legislature's main job next year is to set a new two-year budget and erase a projected $5.8 billion deficit. Lillie said he believes the budget can be balanced entirely by cutting spending, though he said K-12 schools should be protected.

Lillie said he opposes raising taxes, but would not sign a conservative advocacy group's anti-tax pledge.

"I'm not planning to raise taxes, but I don't want to sign a contract since I'm not in the system yet," he said. "I have no plans to raise taxes. There's no hidden agenda."

Lillie said he would not support raising fees. He also advocates for reducing regulations to make Minnesota more business-friendly.

Lawmakers have to address the short-term budget deficit problem and make long-term changes to how government operates, he said. He faulted Saltzman and Democrats and Republicans alike for not doing that.

For example, he said, lawmakers and Gov. Tim Pawlenty balanced the budget in part by delaying $1.8 billion in payments to schools. He said he would oppose that.

Lillie advocates for "zero-based budgeting" where lawmakers start the budget process from scratch, not from current spending levels. "Let's look at how we're spending every dollar."

Lillie said it is reasonable to impose a state-worker hiring freeze for two years, as a budget-balancing measure. Private-sector businesses have had to make similar decisions, he said.

There are ways the state can change how it provides services, Lillie said. He said he was involved with efforts by St. Paul-area communities to review how they provide and pay for services in an attempt to be more efficient.

Lillie has said Saltzman is a government insider - she is a former education lobbyist - who is more eager to rub elbows with bureaucrats than to interact with constituents. He said Saltzman is an adept politician, but he is ready to work for the district.

"Kathy has answers for everything; I have questions," Lillie said. "I want to know what people think."

Lillie said Saltzman must be questioned about what she has done to improve state government and the budget.

"If you were there and in the system, and this is the problem we have, then what did you do about it?" Lillie asked.