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Minnesotans concerned about auto industry bailout

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota politicians want guarantees that any federal money spent to bail out a troubled automobile industry be used wisely.

For U.S. Sen. Norm Colman, R-Minn., the key is that whatever money is given to the industry, automakers must be accountable.

"I have a strong concern that any support we give the auto industry must have strong, fiscal controls and accountability," Coleman said.

"The taxpayers of my state will insist on it, and I will demand it."

Coleman and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, another Republican, said the way America's giant car makers operate is outdated.

A "reckless and broken model" is what Pawlenty called it on the Fox News Channel. "You've got big government, big business and big labor concocting a deal that reflects an economic model that is broken, that is 20 years out of date, and it has to be unstructured."

Added Coleman: "We need a Detroit auto revolution -- the kind that created the massive economic renaissance that built America at the turn of the last century. I believe by investing in new technology, insisting on new product development that is heavily laden with vehicles that function on new energy resources and a labor-management agreement that represents this century's needs, and not the last century's needs, we can restore confidence in the future economic condition of our Big 3 automakers."

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., appeared more open to a bailout, but did not want Congress to issue "a blank check."

"There must be proof that these emergency loans will be put to the best use and have the maximum positive economic impact," Klobuchar said. "Any emergency package must be designed to shore up the whole national economy, not just one industry."

Klobuchar said Minnesota has dogs in this fight, with a Ford Ranger plant in St. Paul and the Iron Range, which remains closely tied to the car industry's need for steel.

Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., issued the strongest statement of any in the Minnesota congressional delegation in favor of a bailout. However, Oberstar said that he wants a bill just for the auto industry, not taking out of $700 billion already designated for financial rescue.

The earlier package "does not include enough safeguards for taxpayers," Oberstar said. "It would have to be modified before it could be used to bail out the Big 3 automakers."

"Congress should pass separate assistance package for the auto industry, in the spirit of and along the lines of the 1978 legislation that saved Chrysler from financial collapse," Oberstar added.

U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., was hesitant to support anything yet.

"Until we see details about an assistance package for the auto industry, we're just speculating about what might be included," Walz said. "But I would be very hesitant about any package that does not include strong protections for the taxpayers who are being asked to foot the bill."

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.