To get to $1 billion, it takes a lot of rural policy centers, farm interpretive sites and business facilitation services.

So those and other Mankato-area institutions are hoping Gov. Tim Pawlenty doesn’t bother with the small fry of Minnesota’s deficit-ridden budget when he announces his unilateral budget cuts, possibly as early as Monday.

“I believe the Center for Rural Policy and the Minnesota River Board are well below the radar,” said Rep. Terry Morrow, mentioning a couple of the area institutions he helped protect in the state budget.

Pawlenty, who decided to use his unallotment powers to eliminate the projected budget shortfall, has indicated some of the big-buck items on his radar. Local Government Aid to cities, county assistance, payments to hospitals, and allocations for colleges and universities are likely to take significant hits.

But the Republican governor recently said the roster of cuts could be extensive, naming local aid, welfare, social services “and numerous other grants, programs and expenditures.”

By vetoing a $1 billion tax hike passed by the heavily Democratic House and Senate, Pawlenty is left with a $2.7 billion gap between anticipated revenue and approved spending. As much as $1.8 billion could be dealt with through accounting shifts that push school payments back a few weeks into the next budget cycle. That would still leave nearly $1 billion to be made up through budget cuts.

“Now we have to make the hard decisions,” Pawlenty said.

The decisions don’t need to be made immediately — the two-year budget cycle won’t be officially unbalanced until summer 2011. Pawlenty has pledged, however, to announce his cuts soon because every day after July 1 will see dollars being spent, limiting the options for making reductions.

The governor also wants to give those affected as much warning as possible, and the cuts should be announced sometime between Monday and June 24, said Rep. Bob Gunther, R-Fairmont.

Brad Finstad, the executive director of the Center for Rural Policy, said the impending unallotment decision is a concern and he’s glad he won’t have to wait several months to find out if his organization will be spared.

“At least we’ll know and can move forward,” said Finstad, a former lawmaker.

Like other appropriations, Pawlenty could have line-item vetoed the rural policy center when the spending bills came across his desk. That he didn’t gives Finstad some optimism, but he isn’t sure if that’s a meaningful clue to the governor’s intentions or not.

“This is, for most people, uncharted territory,” Finstad said. “So a lot of us don’t know what to expect.”

Gunther, who sponsored $189,000 in state help for three business facilitation centers in south-central Minnesota, isn’t sure either if Pawlenty will take aim at some of those smaller appropriations.

“I don’t know,” Gunther said. “He’s going to have to dig pretty deep. Nothing’s probably safe except (K-12) education.”

After further thought, Gunther also added nursing homes to the safe list.

Rep. Tony Cornish, a longtime supporter of state funding for Farmamerica in Waseca, got the impression in meetings with Pawlenty and his administration that smaller appropriations probably will be spared.

“I think he’ll look at bigger-ticket items,” said Cornish, R-Good Thunder.

Morrow also expects that to be the governor’s strategy. And while that will be good news for supporters of those local institutions, Morrow said there will be plenty of pain for southern Minnesota when the governor exercises his unallotment authority.

“I worry not so much about individual projects,” said Morrow, DFL-St. Peter. “I worry about south-central Minnesota’s health-care system. I worry about community hospitals. ... I worry about disability homes throughout the area.”

When the announcement comes, it will inevitably have repercussions across the state. For Finstad and others, the hope is it doesn’t hit too close to home.

“That’s one news story I don’t want to be in,” he said.

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