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Politicians complain of cut

ST. PAUL - Gov. Tim Pawlenty's unilateral spending cuts, designed to balance Minnesota's budget, affect the poor seeking health care, cities and counties that will lose some state aid and countless others.

But the governor reported one complaint overshadows all others he has heard. It does not come from the poor or government officials. It comes from politicians over $10.8 million savings Pawlenty found by eliminating a program that provides Minnesotans a refund of up to $50 for political contributions.

Politicians who fear some of their money will dry up are soliciting potential donors like there is no tomorrow; the program could end July 1.

Especially affected is the Independence Party.

"On principle, the Independence Party of Minnesota has always agreed to fight its Republican and DFL opponents with one arm tied behind its back because of our refusal to accept and be influenced by special interest and lobbyist money," Independence Chairman Jack Uldrich wrote to supporters, urging donations now. "Now the governor is slicing off our other arm by eliminating the PCR (political contribution refund) program. ..."

Pawlenty's Republican Party is making a similar pitch.

"We are going to continue to fight the DFL, keep your taxes low and support common-sense Republicans, like Gov. Pawlenty, but we can't do it without your support!" GOP Chairman Ron Carey wrote to friends, including easy-to-click links to an on-line donation center in his e-mail.

Peterson fights

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson has been fighting a two-front war these days.

It is predictable that the western Minnesota Democrats is battling for ethanol, the corn-based fuel that has boosted agriculture in this district.

But the House Agriculture Committee chairman also is getting headlines for another issue that may surprise some. Here is how the Politico news organization put it: "As President Barack Obama began to craft his massive Wall Street regulatory reform proposal this year, he ran smack into opposition from an unlikely Democratic source: guitar-playing, cigar-chomping Rep. Collin Peterson, who represents the nation's No. 1 sugar beet farming district in Minnesota."

Peterson won that fight, blocking an Obama administration plan to merge the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission. Peterson's committee oversees the futures trading organization because of its roots in trading farm products.

In Peterson's other fight, he is standing up for the ethanol industry, which he says a pending environmental bill would hurt.

iPhone bill

Democratic U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota were happy when the Federal Communications Commission chairman announced he will look into their complaint that some mobile telephone providers have exclusive rights to sell certain telephones.

Actually, it mostly is about the wildly popular Apple iPhone, which is sold only to be used on the AT&T mobile network.

"We've heard concerns about competition-related issues in the wireless marketplace, such as exclusive contracts between handset manufacturers and the largest wireless companies, and we need to make sure consumers are getting a fair deal," Klobuchar said.

Different routes

U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar and the Obama administration are headed down different highways.

Oberstar, a northeastern Minnesota Democrat, released the outline of a $500 billion transportation plan his committee will consider. President Barack Obama's transportation chief, on the other hand, wants the current transportation programs continued for 18 months before a new policy is adopted.

The current transportation funding bill ends in September.

Oberstar's plan calls for $337 billion in highway construction, $100 billion in public transit, $50 billion for high-speed rail lines and $13 billion for other programs.

"Regrettably, our transportation system, once the envy of the world, is losing its battle against time, growth, weather and wear," Oberstar's outline said. "The system is suffering from decades of underinvestment, and the costs are staggering."

So far, Oberstar has not said where he would get money to fund his plan. His specific bill is due later this month.

Kelliher attacks

House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, sounds more and more like a governor candidate.

A couple of days after Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who is not running for re-election next year, announced cuts he would make to balance the state budget, Kelliher said it was just "kicking the can down to road," leaving a hole billions of dollars big for the next governor.

"This is the governor's gift to the state, which is a permanent deficit situation," Kelliher said. "I can understand why he would want to cut and run."

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.