ST. PAUL -- Rejecting a plea from Gov.-elect Tim Pawlenty, Gov. Jesse Ventura will make the state's full $544 million payment to local governments as scheduled Dec. 26.
"The governor felt that to withhold the payment or any part of the payment now would be almost an 11th hour pulling-out-the-rug from cities when they have had no notice," spokesman John Wodele said Friday.
Pawlenty met with Ventura on Thursday to ask him to consider the idea, billing it as one of the state's only tools to fix a bigger-than-expected deficit.
Wodele said Ventura took the request seriously, but ultimately decided that the state had to meet a commitment made by the Legislature, of which Pawlenty was a leader.
"In the end he decided the Legislature had made this commitment, knowing there was going to be a deficit," Wodele said
Withholding or delaying payments would free up money for Pawlenty and the Legislature to use toward a $356 million shortfall they must erase by June. Lawmakers also must confront another $4.2 billion deficit for the two fiscal years after that.
Cities and counties rely on the money to pay for local needs and state-mandated programs, including social services.
Pawlenty's pick as finance commissioner, Dan McElroy, said he was disappointed with the decision, but said the budget will still get balanced through a combination of tapping reserves, making spending cuts and using accounting shifts.
"We think it would have been better public policy if we had spread the burden to include cities and counties in that challenge," said McElroy, a former Burnsville mayor.
Prior to running for governor, Pawlenty had been majority leader of the House. In that position, the Eagan Republican helped craft budget-balancing plans last session that were enacted over the governor's vetoes.
City officials, who have already made budget decisions for the year, were pleased.
"It's good news," said Charlene Stark, assistant finance director for Hastings, which expects to get almost $800,000 next week. "Otherwise it would have taken a chunk into our fund balance."
Added Jim Swenson, mayor of the western community of Hancock: "We are sitting here a town of 800 people. We are a no-frills city. There's no extras here (to cut)."
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