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Lawmakers predict pain

Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, listens while Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, speaks to a group of Red Wing residents Thursday night at a church in Red Wing. Staff photo by Mike Longaecker

Good news wasn't part of the message delivered by two state lawmakers to a group gathered at a church in Red Wing Thursday evening.

Especially not for people counting on city or school district coffers.

During a session update, Sen. Steve Murphy braced residents for possible consequences of a state deficit some estimate at $7 billion.

"Expect less than what you got last year," the Red Wing Democrat said of education funding.

His advice for city officials was just as bleak.

"Buckle up, because it's going to be a bumpy ride for local units of government," Murphy said to a group of about 65 people gathered in the church basement.

Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, joined Murphy for the presentation. The freshman lawmaker didn't offer as much budget prophesizing as his Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party counterpart, though Kelly's assessment was equally blunt.

"Everybody's going to share in this pain," Kelly said. "We are in a massive deficit problem."

Lawmakers and Gov. Tim Pawlenty must reconcile that deficit and set a new two-year budget by May 18, when the Legislature is set to adjourn.

Thursday's forum was a snapshot of how difficult that could be. The lawmakers offered differing opinions on solving the deficit - Kelly calling for lower corporate taxes, Murphy considering other revenue as departments like education and health and human services are slated for cuts.

"That's why I'm starting to talk about tax increases," Murphy said, suggesting higher taxes on cigarettes.

The comment drew mixed reviews from the audience. Tax opponent and Goodhue County Commissioner Ted Seifert said a tax increase might slow economic recovery.

"I would hope we could get through this without tax increases," he said.

One thing both legislators agreed on was that every state department should be considered in budget cutting.

But if education budgets are to be cut, Kelly said lawmakers should take a close look at how districts managed their finances. Poor money management should not be rewarded - and vice versa - he said.

"(Red Wing) should not have to be at the level of some cuts," the former Red Wing School Board member said. "I think we've got a good story to tell."

Kelly referred to Thursday's meeting as a mini-listening session. Beginning Thursday, legislative committees fanned out across the state in listening sessions to hear from Minnesotans on Pawlenty's budget recommendations.