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Governor spars over education funding during SE Minnesota visit

PLAINVIEW -- Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Thursday public employees are "over-benefited and overpaid" when compared to private employees so cutting school employee salaries and benefits are one of the keys to solving the state's education funding challenges.

"It used to be that public employees were underpaid and over-benefited. Now they are over-benefited and overpaid compared to their private-sector counterparts," he told a crowd gathered in Plainview.

Pawlenty spoke to the Plainview Chamber of Commerce during a swing through southeastern Minnesota on Thursday. The Republican governor made the comments after Plainview-Elgin-Millville Superintendent Gary Kuphal asked Pawlenty what his long-term solution is for education funding. Kuphal said his district has cut $1.35 million over the last two years.

"School after school, PEM included, has gone through budget cuts and budget reductions and in the near future, it looks like we may have to do it again," he said.

Pawlenty quizzed Kuphal on whether or not employees received a salary increase. Kuphal said the district approved a total benefits package increase of $200,000 for two years.


The governor told the crowd that public employee benefits, salaries and entitlements need to be brought under control. He also reiterated his call for linking teachers' pay to student performance. Finally, he said the state has to wrestle control of spending for special services, welfare and publicly-subsidized health care, which he said is rapidly growing and is "consuming almost all of the financial oxygen in the country."

After the event, Kuphal said he was disappointed by the governor's answer and had hoped to hear more specific suggestions.

"It was a non-answer. I really didn't hear anything that I hadn't heard before. He was kind of stating a position without offering a solution," he said. "I had hoped for more."

Many of the questions from the audience focused on agriculture as well as whether proposed wind turbine developments could hurt farming. Concerns include the potential for wind turbines to cause distress to the cows and lower milk production.

Goodhue County dairy farmer Paul Reese asked, "What is the justification to push the renewable energy standard at the cost of an established industry like the dairy industry?"

The renewable energy standard requires that Minnesota utilities get at least 25 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2025.

Pawlenty said he has always been supportive of wind power.

"(Wind power) is going to continue to grow," he said, "because it is increasingly accepted economically and otherwise."

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