.ST. PAUL (AP) -- One of the Legislature's top minds was tapped Friday by Gov.-elect Tim Pawlenty to lead the state's Finance Department, which will face the daunting task this year of managing a projected $3 billion budget deficit.
Rep. Dan McElroy, 54, has served in the House for eight years and has built a reputation for creativity and fairness. In a pinch, the Burnsville Republican could find pockets of money in state government that few others knew existed.
That knack could come in handy as he helps Pawlenty craft a budget-balancing plan that doesn't raise taxes -- something the governor-elect pledged to do earlier this year.
"Dan really is a human spreadsheet," Pawlenty said.
McElroy said he would be careful in crafting the budget to remember "that behind every number, there is a face."
He said he would look at tweaking many parts of the budget to come up with a broad fix.
Pawlenty's first cabinet appointment siphons an influential Republican member from the House. McElroy won re-election this year with about 59 percent of the vote.
But with a Republican governor and an 82-52 majority in the House, the likely appointment of a lawmaker or two to other jobs shouldn't hinder the caucus' ability to pass legislation.
During his time in the Legislature, McElroy has been a powerful member of the House Taxes Committee and chairman of the Property Tax Division. He also has served as chairman of the Jobs and Economic Development Finance Committee and a member of the Commerce Committee.
His sharp intellect won him regular positions on House-Senate conference committees that negotiate deals at the end of legislative sessions.
And since Republicans took the House in 1999, he's worked closely with Pawlenty (the majority leader) and House Speaker Steve Sviggum on strategy.
McElroy is the kind of lawmaker who delights in tweaking the small print of bills to make sure they do what they say they will. He's all about policy and has parted ways with his caucus on issues such as abortion and benefits for laid-off workers. He also has been a leader on the issue of affordable housing.
Earlier this year, updated district boundaries pitted McElroy against a fellow committee chairman, Burnsville Republican Rep. Ken Wolf.
"I'm just a political policy wonk without a district at this point," McElroy said at the time, laughing and adding that it was crucial for politicians to have a sense of humor.
Wolf ultimately accepted a job in the state Department of Commerce, leaving a clear path to election for his colleague.
McElroy, a history major who graduated from De La Salle High School in Minneapolis and the University of Notre Dame, has had ownership interests in several companies.
One of them has been Travel Agency Management Solutions, which provides software and consulting services to travel agencies in the United States and Canada.
Republicans would have a good chance at winning a special election in his suburban Dakota County district
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