Governor comes to town

Published 10:49 am Tuesday, May 5, 2009

With two weeks until the state legislature is set to adjourn and against a backdrop of a $4.6 billion state deficit, Gov. Tim Pawlenty visited Austin Monday, his first Mower County visit of 2009.

The governor was the featured speaker at the Development Corporation of Austin’s 2008 annual meeting held at the Austin Country Club and spoke about the need for competitive costs statewide, education, the state’s strengths, the budget and how there’s still work to do.

Pawlenty emphasized that Minnesota needs to be cost competitive in a hyper-competitive global economy and suggested that the state is in great danger of pricing itself out of the market.

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“I think the state of Minnesota should live within the means that it has because it’s already a high-taxed state,” he said, adding that his proposed budget includes reducing spending by 4 percent.

On education, the governor said Minnesota students have the highest ACT scores in the country, but also expressed the need to reform and improve our school system, calling it “not modern” and “not rigorous enough.” He also emphasized support for performance pay linking teacher compensation to classroom and student achievement.

As far as the state’s strengths, Pawlenty said that we need to take advantage of them, which in Austin and Mower County includes agriculture, food and food processing. He said that one in five jobs in Minnesota comes from that market.

“It’s much easier to ride a wave than to create a new one,” he said.

He also added that while we are grateful for our larger companies, it’s also important to find ways to bring in both midsize businesses and the next generation of entrepreneurs as well.

“It’s a good idea to diversify, so you don’t have all your eggs in one basket,” he said Monday afternoon, citing that before the collapse of the economy, most of the job growth came from small and medium-sized businesses.

As far as the budget is concerned, the governor said the state’s health and human services budget is out of control and added that the human services programs are taking up so much of the state’s resources, that it’s beginning to impact other areas such as the state’s roads and bridges, the economic climate and education.

In closing, the governor aimed to balance the negatives, with the positives.

“This is a state that gets through things,” he said.

In addition to top ACT scores, the governor also praised the state’s low uninsured rate and its outdoor opportunities.

“The list of positive things about Minnesota goes on and on and on,” he said.

Mayor Tom Stiehm said he was pleased with the governor’s speech.

“He always gives good speeches,” Stiehm said.

Stiehm did say he wished the governor had touched more on local government aid. Under the governor’s budget proposal, which the governor has said is a worst case scenario, Austin would lose close to $1.8 million in local government aid for 2009 and 2010 combined. Without the proposed cuts, Austin’s LGA for 2009 would be roughly $7.7 million.

“I wished he would have mentioned what’s going on in the legislature about local government aid,” Stiehm said.