ST. PAUL (AP) -- When Gov. Tim Pawlenty asked for help balancing the budget, Minnesotans responded with gusto. In just seven weeks, more than 3,700 suggestions bombarded the simple Internet link the administration had set up.
Some were serious, others comical. The state suggestion box yielded no magic bullet for shedding the $4.56 billion shortfall, but officials say it's been a useful barometer of public feeling.
Among the most common proposals were charging tolls on major interstates, permitting state employees to retire earlier and allowing the state to cash in on gambling.
"Casinos. Lots and lots of casinos. And hookers. Don't forget the hookers," one person wrote.
Dozens recommended charging more tax on cigarettes or alcohol or legalizing marijuana. "Legalize pot, tax it, budget crisis is POOF gone. You would only have to worry about how to spend all the extra money."
Pawlenty has pledged not to raise taxes and will release his budget plan on Tuesday -- a week later than originally scheduled. It's sure to clash with those who believe the state should solve at least part of the fiscal crisis through tax hikes.
"I would say raise taxes," someone wrote to Pawlenty. "A friend of mine, a financial planner, once said to me: if you can't live within your means, don't lower your living standard, go out and raise your means. Sounds like good advice to me."
Of the responses, about 20 percent suggested raising taxes and roughly 50 percent offered ideas for cutting government spending such as "require state government offices and agencies to print documents, memos, etc. on both sides of paper."
Some overlapped and some were "garbage" such as racist comments, said John Doan, assistant to Finance Commissioner Dan McElroy.
And, he added, "We got a handful that were more complaints or whining."
But for the most part, the comments were sincere and many were submitted by state workers, he said. A Finance Department employee is separating the suggestions into specific categories and forwarding them to budget officers in the state agencies that would be affected.
"They're good suggestions, too," said Pawlenty's chief of staff, Charlie Weaver. "We don't have a corner on good ideas."
Other states have taken similar measures, such as in Maine, where Gov. John Baldacci encouraged citizens to submit their ideas and even set up a Web-based game people can use to virtually move state money around.
In Minnesota, about 529 suggestions came in per week until the link was taken down Jan. 24. A few have dribbled in to the administration via e-mail or mail since then, Doan said.
"People are very interested in helping to balance the budget," he said. "The only way a democracy truly works is when everyone gets involved."
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