Forum tonight to sound off on state budget

With the state staring down a $4.8 billion budget deficit — and expecting news next week that could bump the number up another couple billion dollars — legislators are seeking the common man’s advice.

“Passing a balanced budget in the middle of this economic crisis will require us to reach across party lines, set smart policies and make many difficult decisions,” Sen. Linda Higgins (DFL-58) said in a news release. “To accomplish these goals, we need the input from working Minnesotans, business owners, local government leaders, retirees and everyone in between.”

All citizens are invited to come to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board headquarters, 2117 W. River Road, at 6 p.m. today. To speak, residents can sign up in advance by clicking here  or by calling Higgins’ office, 651-296-9246.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s budget proposal includes expansive cuts to higher education and health care. To plug holes, Pawlenty is proposing help from a variety of sources, including one-time money and aid from the recently passed federal stimulus plan. Click here to see the proposal.

Tonight’s community meeting is part of a statewide tour. Similar meetings are being held this week in such cities as Bloomington, Burnsville, Plymouth and St. Paul. It’s a process similar to one just completed by Mayor R.T. Rybak, who held two community and two all-employee meetings to ask for advice on a new 2009 budget. A few ideas heard there made it into his new proposal, unveiled on Monday.

Hennepin County, meanwhile, announced that they also are asking residents for help. They have opened an online idea box, where anyone can send in suggestions for how the county should prepare for what are expected to be severe budget cuts from the state. Click here for more information.