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Lawmaker warns budget crisis rests ahead for the state

WILLMAR -- Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar, is applauding much of what the Legislature accomplished, but also warning that this session's budget finish sets the stage for a very troubled start next time around.

Gimse was joined Tuesday by the deputy minority leader of the Republican caucus, Sen. Betsy Wergin, R-Princeton, on the steps of the Willmar Municipal Library.

The event launched a five-city tour offering their party's take on the just-completed session.

They charged that the DFL-controlled Legislature tapped the state's reserve funds too deeply to solve this year's budget deficit and didn't cut spending enough. "They've created a real big problem for 2010 and 2011,'' Wergin said.

She and Gimse said the Legislature will have to deal with a projected $2 billion to $3 billion budget deficit for the 2010-2011 budget cycle when it meets again.

The budget deal brokered between the Legislature and Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty calls for taking $500 million from state reserves, leaving a balance of $125 million. It also calls for $355 million in spending cuts and for plugging $100 million in corporate tax loopholes, according to the legislators.

Gimse offered a largely upbeat assessment of the session otherwise. He applauded the move to increase Local Government Aid by $60 million, especially since it was tied to a 3.9 percent cap on property tax increase.

Gimse said he didn't like putting restrictions on local governments, but defended the property tax cap by stating: "I hope they recognize that we want to have some restraint.''

The increase in LGA should bring an additional $230,000 a year to Willmar's coffers, according to Gimse.

He also applauded the decision to increase education funding by $51 per student. He cautioned that the increase is a one-time boost only.

Gimse also said that beginning in 2010-2011, school districts will share the state's school trust fund revenues more equitably: Each district will receive an additional $35 per student, according to the legislators.

The school trust fund represents revenues received on state-owned lands, including those leased for mineral rights or other uses.

The two senators also expressed their support for new legislation that offers an estimated $10 million in tax exemptions to retired and disabled veterans. They called it an "economic stimulus package'' for 15,000 families in the state.

Gimse also voiced his support for the bonding bill approved earlier in the session by pointing to the funds it offers Ridgewater College, the Willmar wastewater treatment plant and Grass Lake flood retention projects.

He remained critical of the transportation bill. He charged that at a time of $4-a-gallon gasoline, the 8.5-cent increase in the gas tax will hurt working people the most.

Gimse also expressed his disappointment at the Legislature's rejection of the Real ID legislation he proposed. He charged that many metropolitan legislators do not understand the seriousness of the criminal activity associated with illegal immigration.

He proposed legislation calling for the state to issue worker identification cards and setting strict documentation requirements for their issuance.