ST. PAUL (AP) -- Round two of Minnesota's battle with a mammoth budget deficit -- expected to start Tuesday -- has been delayed by a week because Gov. Tim Pawlenty needs more time to put the final touches on his plan.
Pawlenty's 2004-05 budget proposal, which must address a projected $4.2 billion shortfall, will drive legislative debate. The governor postponed the release date so his finance advisers could rework portions of the plan to account for emergency spending cuts he made Friday.
"It's more important to get the numbers right than to do this quickly," Pawlenty said in a news release. "The impact of this budget is far too serious not to be certain about the bottom line."
That bottom line might be changing for the better, according to new data from the state finance department.
A new report showed Monday that state tax collections for January were $9 million higher than anticipated. State economist Tom Stinson said he wouldn't read much into such a small swing.
But, coupled with a similar report last month, collections are now $64 million above projections since the huge deficit figure was announced in early December.
January's gain came mainly through stronger-than-forecast sales taxes. But income tax withholdings still remain behind expectations.
Monday's news doesn't immediately change the deficit figure Pawlenty and lawmakers must address. A more comprehensive economic outlook that weighs both revenue and spending is due on Feb. 27.
By law, Pawlenty has until Feb. 18 to forward his proposal to the Legislature.
The administration had hoped to release an overview this Tuesday and put out line-by-line details throughout the week.
But on Friday, Pawlenty trimmed $281 million from the 2003 budget when the Legislature failed to meet his deadline for acting on a short-term deficit.
None of Pawlenty's cuts carried into the next two years and there was not any money left unspent to put toward the larger deficit.
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