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Pawlenty’s budget proposal: cuts and responses

ALSO: A big bonding bill that is a budget fight of its own; young skiers make big noises.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty released his supplemental budget plan Monday, and it was exactly as predicted, and feared. Pawlenty’s own press release, available on Minnesota Public Radio’s Polinaut, heralds it as a sort of triumph, singing its praises with words such as ” Governor’s plan solves $1.2 billion deficit, includes tax cuts to spur job growth.” How? Through a mixture of cutting spending and cutting taxes. “The historic drop in the economy has caused an historic drop in state revenues,” Pawlenty quotes himself in his own release, although its probably worth noting that if you refuse to raise taxes and if you actually cut taxes, that drop will be magnified.

But, yes, a recession hurts — a lot. And Pawlenty has decided precisely who it will hurt. MPR’s Lorna Benson gives one example: 21,000 Minnesotans would lose their health care, while another 20,000 would have it reduced. Now, in fairness, some people will be able to retain their health care: anybody making less than $8,100 per year. So what happens to people who lose their coverage? Well, Pawlenty is relying on $387 million in federal Medicaid funding, which brought a sneering response from Rep. Tom Huntley: “If he can assume that the feds are going to do something in the future, then I guess we can assume that, too. I could assume that they’re going to give us $1.2 billion and then we don’t have a deficit.

Pawlenty did spare spending on K-12 education, but, as Tom Weber of MPR describes it, higher education is taking a hit: $36 million is coming out of the University of Minnesota’s budget, whicle $10 million will come out of the MnSCU system, which Pawlenty called “relatively light.”

Pawlenty is also cutting deep into local government. According to Jason Hoppin of the Pioneer Press, he is not only proposing cutting $250 million in aid to local governments, he’s also arguing that his controversial unallotments from last year be made permanent. St. Paul alone would lose an additional $13 million, which cumulatively is “more than the city’s parks and recreation, city attorney, human resources and city council budgets combined.” State agencies in general would see their budgets slashed by 6 percent, and the $1.2 billion that was delayed to schools — well, that would just keep on being delayed. It’s worth noting that many schools borrowed to make up for the delay, and it’s hard to say what they’ll do if that money isn’t forthcoming. (MinnPost coverage here.)

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Pawlenty’s proposals drew responses that ranged from saturnine to furibund to, well, let’s call it diogenic; it just feels like big words are needed to describe the profundity of emotion the governor’s plan has created. A sampling:

Floodwood Mayor Jeff Kletscher offers up a despairing response to Pawlenty’s apparent sense that there is yet fat that can be cut in local government, telling MPR, “The fat is gone … I have no parks. I have no community rec center. I have no swimming pool. I have no public library so I can’t cut that fat out. My services are what I provide. Plowing, mowing, trying to take care of our streets and the services that our folks want, including police and fire protection.”

In the same story, DFL House Majority Leader Tony Sertich accuses Pawlenty of hypocrisy, pointing out that the governor has been critical of federal spending while relying on it to help solve his budget crisis: “Gov. Pawlenty seems to agree with federal funding while candidate Pawlenty travels the state disagreeing with himself.”

KARE11 talks to Tim Flaherty, executive director of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, who offers this dire forecast: “People are going to have to get used to a lot less service. They’re just not going to be able to get the service they’ve come to expect. That means, yes, the snow will be on the ground a lot longer.

MPR’s Tim Pugmire gets responses from two DFL leaders. Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller charged that Pawlenty “clearly does not hold public safety harmless. In his state agencies he’s making cuts, and clearly the reduction of $250 million to cities and counties will affect public safety.” House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher worried about health care, saying that “[a] big piece of his budget proposal here is cutting people, poor people in Minnesota, off of basic health care, grandmas and grandpas off of basic health care, and instead giving that to out-of-state corporations. And I don’t think that’s in line with Minnesota values.”

Even the Star Tribune seemed a little, let’s say, begrumpled in it’s coverage of the governor’s tax proposal: Warren Wolfe started his story with the following lede: “Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s proposal to cut a net of $347 million from programs for sick, aged, disabled and jobless people is akin to the advice an ailing George Washington got from his doctors 210 years ago, one critic said Monday: Bleed him, in hope of a cure.” Whew! Begrumpled almost doesn’t seem like a strong enough word!

If it seems like a fight is in the works, well, friends, it’s already on: Ignoring Pawlenty’s threat that he would veto any bonding bill that goes beyond his proposed $685 million, on Monday the House went ahead and approved a bill for $1.1 billion. Although, as Mike Kaszuba of the Star Tribune points out, the bill passed with overwhelming approval (the vote was 92 to 37, and several Republicans voted for it), some Republicans feel there was not enough debate, causing Rep. Marty Seifert to demand that Pawlenty “take the whole bill down based on that fact alone.” Bill Salisbury of the Pioneer Press breaks down the bill, and points out that it includes “arts and civic centers, zoo exhibits and about $300 million more in other projects that Pawlenty opposes.”

All this budget talk is a bit exhausting. Thank goodness we can rely on KARE11 for some punchy quotes, this one in what would otherwise be a nearly unforgivably slight story from Jana Shortal about young skiers at Afton Alps. Shortal managed to find some teen skiers with enviable egos, and quotes them trash talking on the slopes. “Going to be half pipe champ 2020,” one young fellow says, following it up with “I am the man.” Another teen races down the trails, declaring “Go big or go home.” There’s only one word for that sort of youthful exuberance, and that word is, er, bovarism.