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Pawlenty ready to take any federal money

ST. PAUL -- The Pawlenty administration plans to spend all federal economic stimulus money that it can get its hands on - estimated at $4 billion.

That announcement on Monday came weeks after Gov. Tim Pawlenty criticized the package and hinted he would reject federal funds.

"We are going to do our best to accept every penny or every dime," said Tom Hanson, commissioner of the office of management and budget.

Hanson said, however, that details about how the money can be spent still are lacking a week after President Barack Obama signed the $787 billion package it into law and there could be some provisions that Minnesota could not accept.

U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., said that it could be weeks before the final breakdown on economic stimulus spending is figured out.

Obama announced Monday that states will get their first stimulus check this week, but Hanson told two House committees that state officials will not know exactly how much federal money will be coming their way, or what strings will be attached, for some time.

For instance, Minnesota Education Commissioner Alice Seagren said that while there are estimates about how much money each school district will receive, she warns local officials not to count on those amounts. "The numbers keep changing. ... It is just evolving as we speak."

If Gov. Tim Pawlenty's proposed $300 million cut to state-run colleges and universities passes the Legislature, Seagren said, the newly signed federal law requires that federal money replace the money that was cut before other education programs get any emergency funding. So if lawmakers agree with Pawlenty's budget cuts, less money would be available for public schools.

All together, Minnesota should receive $9 billion, Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said. Of that, about $5 billion would go to federal tax cuts and $4 billion to the government, non-profit groups and other organizations.

Some lawmakers are concerned that the federal government is controlling how the state spends stimulus money.

"Members, this is our state," Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Wabasha, told fellow lawmakers in an unsuccessful bid to require the Pawlenty administration to reject any federal funds with strings attached, unless lawmakers agreed to the spending.

"Minnesotans are demanding that we fix the budget problem rather than defer it to the future," Drazkowski said, indicating that some federal money likely will need to be replaced with state funds in future budgets.

McClung said that the Republican governor has concerns with the stimulus package, "starting with the fact that Congress is spending money they don't have." Pawlenty also would like more of the money directed to infrastructure projects such as highway construction.

"However, Minnesota is a net contributor to the federal government, receiving 72 cents in federal spending for every dollar sent to Washington," McClug said. "As a result, Gov. Pawlenty has said we will work to effectively utilize the funds provided in the stimulus bill."

Hanson said several areas of government will receive federal funds, such as $502 million for transportation and $1.1 billion for education.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.