BAXTER - Gov. Tim Pawlenty Thursday stressed the importance of curbing state spending and not raising taxes as Minnesota grapples with projections of a $5 billion budget deficit and what he termed as the most severe economic crisis since World War II.
The governor addressed a Brainerd Lakes Chamber luncheon, toured Silent Power Inc., a Baxter renewable energy firm, and talked with members of the Brainerd Dispatch's editorial board.
Numbers for the state budget are in a state of flux since a more up-to-date economic forecast is expected soon and the details of the federal stimulus program are just coming to light.
"We have a global, national and state economic crisis," Pawlenty said, adding that Minnesotans have always faced challenge and that we should be both pragmatic and hopeful.
Slowing down state spending, in particular health care costs which are threatening to suffocate the rest of the budget, is a must.
"It's important to live within your means," he told the chamber members.
Since 1960 the average annual increase in state spending has been 19 percent. Pawlenty said Gov. Arne Carlson and Gov. Jesse Ventura brought that figure down to 12 percent. Currently, the increase under Pawlenty has been about 9 percent. The governor would like to reduce state spending by 2.2 percent this year.
Reining in spending will position Minnesota to be competitive in the future, he said. Not everybody, he reminded Democrats, can work for the government.
"We need to make Minnesota a more job-friendly and business-friendly state," he said.
Education is a key component of encouraging businesses, Pawlenty said. His voluntary Q-comp program, which is designed to reward teachers for moving the needle on student learning from September to May. He said a governor is only empowered to nudge educators gently in the direction he would like.
"God forbid, we can't have the teachers' unions mad at us," he said.
Claiming the educational system is 40 to 50 years out of date, he said the core mission should be to see that students are learning at a reasonable rate. The seniority system of compensation doesn't relate to that mission, he said.
"The world has changed," Pawlenty said. "It doesn't work like that."
Responding to a question from Alan Gunsbury, a longtime Gull Lake resort and restaurant owner, Pawlenty said that high schools, in particular, have major problems. He said they have become academic holding patterns for many students.
MIKE O'ROURKE may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5860.
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