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Carlson suggests to state GOP: Take the lead in advancing positive ideas

The following is a copy of a letter former Gov. Arne H. Carlson sent to Tony Sutton, state chair of the Republican Party of Minnesota; it was released on Tuesday.

The following is a copy of a letter former Gov. Arne H. Carlson sent to Tony Sutton, state chair of the Republican Party of Minnesota; it was released on Tuesday:

Dear Tony,

I am in receipt of your press release and after 40 years in the tugs and pulls of politics, I can appreciate the circumstances that you feel compel you to dismiss challenges with name-calling and suggestions of treason. However, I would suggest that our state is in dire need of more thoughtfulness and less vindictive politics. I would further submit that the Republican Party needs to welcome dissent. As you know, I inherited a large deficit and, therefore, want to be as helpful as possible in preparing the candidates and public for the hard and painful choices that lay ahead. 

The November forecast will likely re-state the state’s deficit at between $5-$7 billion.  It will likely also verify an ongoing structural deficit of at least 1.5 percent (the gap between planned expenditures and likely revenues). This means that we will not be going back to the “old norm” but will need to create a “new norm.”  While this news may be dark and foreboding, it also gives Minnesotans an opportunity to rethink the size and scope of government and to start to focus on smart and efficient without getting endlessly clogged into shallow slogans involving conservative and liberal.

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I would further submit that this transition affords Republicans a rare opportunity to redefine in an intelligent fashion the new shape of smart and efficient government.

If I may, allow me to suggest the following:

I. Truly commit to the requirement of a balanced budget without permitting today’s expenditures to be paid for with tomorrow’s revenues.                                                                                                                                         

Sadly, this has not been the case for the past eight years.  For instance, in this recent legislative session, the $3 billion deficit was dealt with by pushing off $2 billion of payments to the next fiscal year.  Surprisingly, there was not a single bill submitted by Governor Pawlenty or Republican legislators that reduced the costs of government by $3 billion or even suggested a mix of cuts and modest revenue increases that eliminated the deficit.  Like prior budgets, the aim was to simply push the problem to the future.

In this context, it should be noted that while much of the impending $5-$7 billion deficit is due to the downturn in the economy, at least 40 percent of the red ink spills from the Governor’s postponements of payments.  In other words, failure to properly balance the budget in healthy years (2002-2007) has led to a huge deficit problem that will be inherited by the next Governor and legislature.

These concerns are not mine alone.  You will recall that Governor Pawlenty’s budgets have already cost Minnesota a downgrading from our AAA bond rating and recently another Wall Street warning was issued relative to concerns with the state’s financial management. That is not acceptable.

II. Enforce the current law that requires the Governor to submit a budget for the out-years of 2012-13. The language of that law reads as follows:


            Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, a budget proposed by the governor and enacted for fiscal years 2010 and 2011 must also provide for a balanced general fund budget in fiscal years 2012 and 2013.

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It is certainly politically understandable that Governor Pawlenty would want to sidestep this responsibility.   However, avoidance is not leadership. Governors are not above the law and political parties ought not to shield Governors or any public official from obedience to the law.  It should also be remembered that this law was enacted by Republicans and Democrats and signed into law by Governor Pawlenty.

The media has been insistent on gubernatorial candidates submitting detailed answers about the budget in terms of cuts and/or corresponding increases in taxes.  However, candidates do not have the staff to produce budgets in detail.  Only the Governor has that ability.

The public would be well served if the Governor promptly submitted his budget for 2012-13 as required by law and then the candidates can make more informed judgments. After all, they are the ones inheriting this financial mess and they will need all the help they can get. This would also allow the public to more intelligently evaluate the options presented by the candidates.

III. Create a Republican Policy Unit.

Preparing a state budget is a complicated and massive undertaking.  In size alone, it comes in 3 volumes and covers over $30 billion in expenditures and revenues.  A new Governor has less than 30 days from inauguration to prepare and submit these documents to the legislature.

Considering the fact that the immediate deficit will be in the $5-$7 billion range and that the ongoing structural deficit will be in the area of $450 to $550 million, one can soberly conclude that it cannot be properly handled in such a short period of time.

The time factor also limits the introduction of immediate reforms because a transition is required.  In brief, experts are needed. This means planning and planning now. We should agree that good planning comes about when quality minds and sound research is utilized. Instead of collecting a group of like minds, I would suggest that you, as Chair of the Party, insist on bringing together people who reflect wisdom, intelligence, and independent thought along with the necessary skills sets involving expertise in management, finance, planning, etc.

In brief, let the Republican Party lead with a positive and thoughtful program that responds to the needs of Minnesotans.  We must be for something and demonstrate more depth than simple slogans and suggestions of disloyalty to those who disagree.

IV. Broaden the Republican Party.

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Traditionally, the Republican Party was synonymous with fiscal discipline and a more limited government.  In recent decades, it has drifted away from these principles.  I would strongly suggest that the Republican Party take the lead in advancing positive ideas and recognize the historical opportunity this transition affords all of us. Each of our institutions, private and public, will be compelled to creatively re-invent themselves in order that they fall within the framework of affordability and yet able to execute their mission. This is particularly true for younger people because it is they who must live with these decisions and they are the most willing to embrace new thoughts and new solutions.

A political party becomes a magnet when it casts out creative ways to govern that are aligned with the state’s best interests.

Please, opt for this new opportunity.

My best,

Arne H. Carlson