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      Lawmakers tighten focus on budget

      Lawmakers have already taken the initial steps toward dealing with a budget shortfall projected to be at least $450 million but the intensity will grow this week when Gov. Chet Culver delivers his proposed spending plan to the Legislature. The governor did not offer a detailed budget when he delivered his condition of the state speech, but has until the end of the month to offer his proposed spending plan, and aides said he's putting the finishing touches on that effort. The Legislature has already begun moving on key budget components. A Senate committee has approved a restructuring measure that merges some state agencies, streamlines the operation of others and eliminates a string of boards and commissions. Projections show those measures could save the state about $100 million next year.
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