Local offices of Minnesota state agencies are in a wait-and-see mode after Wednesday's announcement of a $4.5 billion state budget shortfall.
"We haven't heard from the governor-elect or the Department of Finance as to what may be in store for transportation," said Kathy Clark, Minnesota Department of Transportation spokesperson in Brainerd. "There's a lot of concern here as to what the future holds. We're looking at various scenarios, but until the budget comes in we can't say anything specific."
Earlier this year the Department of Finance ordered state agencies to reduce operating costs by 10 percent. Under that scenario the DNR was expected to cut up to 500 jobs, said C.B. Bylander, DNR spokesman in Brainerd.
"We can't speculate at this point," Bylander said this morning. "It's tough news. We must move forward with our conservation agenda and we'll continue to apply core services, but obviously we can't operate as we have in the past."
When the DNR makes cuts, state parks usually see reductions in staff and services because their money comes from the general fund. When the budget shortfall was estimated to be $3 billion just 12 state parks would have had open campgrounds while 54 would have been closed. A larger deficit could mean more closings, Bylander said.
"It's our hope in dealing with the Legislature that we could eliminate the cuts from our dedicated accounts," Bylander said. "And we want to work on a long-term funding solution, our 'Half Cent For Nature' proposal."
Brainerd State Patrol Capt. Kent O'Grady said the outlook isn't as bleak for the State Patrol.
"We're not funded by the general fund but by the gas tax and vehicle registration taxes," O'Grady said. "We're not looking at as big of a problem, but we'll have to tighten our belts as best we can."
Crow Wing County and Mille Lacs and Kanabec counties are all short two troopers, O'Grady said.
"Our service calls have more than doubled over the past 10 years," O'Grady said. "You hear people say they never see a trooper on the highway anymore. Well, that's why."
Beginning in January, 22 recruits will begin training at Camp Ripley. But O'Grady said there is no guarantee that two of the graduates will be assigned to Brainerd.
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