Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Is this Pawlenty’s legacy: massive budget shortfall and deadlocked politicians?

With a $6.2 billion deficit looming, Pawlenty declares the budget balanced, lawmakers split on partisan lines. ALSO: There’s money in thrift stores; be careful where you wear your gun; a football player has a headache.

Although we cannot be sure how long Tim Pawlenty has as our governor —- that will depend on the recount and whatever lawsuits follow — he is in the process of attempting to sum up his tour of duty. And how did Minnesota fare under his extended experiment of never raising taxes, even during a recession? Well, it depends on whom you ask. According to Tim Pawlenty, he leaves with a balanced budget and money in the bank, as the Associated Press reports. He points to a $399 million surplus we currently have.

Of course, that surplus is largely because of federal stimulus money, which he has derided, calling it a “Band-Aid” that just postpones economic problems. But what was a Band-Aid in December 2009 is a sign of a successful governor in December 2010, with no discussion of whether or not the economic problems Pawlenty discussed have been resolved, or just postponed further.

No discussion from Pawlenty, that is. But if you ask Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Steve Sviggum, we’re looking at a $6.2 billion state budget shortfall next year, far worse than originally predicted, as reported by Boua Xiong of KARE11. How did this happen? Well, according to State Economist Tom Stinson, paraphrased in the Star Tribune, this was the “direct result of past political decisions that favored payment delays and one-time fixes over politically painful structural reform.” We’re not going to point any fingers, but this sounds like the behavior of a certain somebody whose name rhymes with Pim Papenty.

What to do? Well, we could see what our next governor plans to do, but we don’t know who he is yet. Tom Emmer hasn’t really offered a plan anyway, but he knows who to blame: the Democrats. Minnesota Public Radio’s Tom Scheck quotes his statement: “Gov. Pawlenty has relentlessly worked to control growth but was thwarted at every turn by the DFL legislature.” We will take a moment now to remind you that in the last budget session, Pawlenty went through the budget and line-item vetoed anything he felt was extraneous — a move that was later deemed illegal. But the Democratic Legislature that Emmer derides here largely upheld his cuts. He has also vetoed any budget that didn’t meet his approval. But we would be delighted to see Tom Emmer provide a breakdown of exactly what Pawlenty wanted to cut, but couldn’t, and precisely how this generated the current crises. We assume if you are to make an accusation, you are prepared to back it up.

Article continues after advertisement

Mark Dayton has a plan, and it’s his old one: raise taxes. Tom Scheck of MPR quotes him as saying there will be a need to increase income, and that other ideas are on the table, including expanding gambling. But he says that his plans are hypothetical now; we’ll hear more after he meets with “former finance commissioners and other budget experts.”

So what of our current lawmakers? What are their plans? Well, they seem like they intend to address the crisis with gridlock. As Tom Scheck details it, the Democrats want to raise taxes, and the Republicans say that’s not going to happen, and apparently share Emmer’s belief that the only thing wrong with Pawlenty’s approach to budgeting is that he wasn’t given a free enough hand to slash government spending.

Pawlenty may yet get his free hand. If the recount and whatever lawsuits follow by the time the next budget session occurs, Pawlenty may still be governor, and would have a Republican-controlled bicameral. So how are thing going with the recount? About as you may expect — Tom Emmer’s campaign, having been ridiculed for excessive frivolous challenges, responded by actually increasing the number of frivolous challenges they made. MinnPost’s Jay Weiner calls this Emmer’s “end-game” strategy, and quotes Emmer attorney Tony Trimble, addressing an obviously disgusted press, openly admitted that this is gamesmanship. When pressed as to whether he is instructing challengers as to what the law is, Trimble says, “We train them to look for anything that might lead to doubt as to the intent of the voter with respect to that ballot.” But that’s not the law, which spells out what a frivolous challenge is. Emmer’s challengers are calling ballots that, say, have 98 percent of an oval filled in, as though this would raise questions of voter intent in the mind of anybody reasonable.

But certainly this couldn’t merely be an attempt to slow the process down? Although there is this odd line at the very tail end of a story by MPR’s Mark Zdechlik: “For the second time in two days, Hennepin County officials asked the Emmer side to approve adding more counting tables to speed up the process. The Emmer side again said no.”

Dayton, by the way, has withdrawn his frivolous challenges, as reported by Bob Von Sternberg of the Star Tribune. But, then, he didn’t have that many. According to Allen Costantini of KARE11, in Hennepin County, Dayton’s people made 14 frivolous challenges; Emmer’s camp made 1,818.

We have a suggestion for how to balance the budget: Dig through some old junk at thrift stores. Apparently, there’s just thousand of dollars stashed away in pockets and old valises and whatnot. At least, that was the case for one Minnesota woman, as reported by the station formerly known as WCCO. She promptly turned the money in to the store’s management, which either means she’s a woman of great scruples or that she’s learned the lesson of “No Country for Old Men”: Never, ever take money that you just find lying around.

In more tales from our lawmakers, things just aren’t getting any easier for state Rep. Tom Hackbarth. You may remember when he was detained recently by the police for parking his car in a Planned Parenhood parking lot with a loaded pistol. He explained that he didn’t realize where he had parked and that he was actually checking on an online date who he feared might be out with another man. And the gun? Well, he just always has that with him. As Jay Kolls of Eyewitness News reports, Hackbarth is still under investigation, as certain details of his story don’t seem to gel. The woman he was looking for, for example? It doesn’t seem like she exists. A tipster told police Hackbarth was actually looking for an employee from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, who has declined to pursue the case. Note to self: When engaging in sketchy behavior, it may not be the best time to wear a handgun.

In arts: Intermedia Arts hosted an event Tuesday that looked at the character of arts in Minnesota, as detailed by MinnPost’s Jim Walsh. Mostly, they deem to have decided that everything we think we know about Minnesota arts is wrong. Scandinavian? Nope. Modest? Nah-uh. Socially conscious? Well, maybe a little. As an aside, this author will note that we mostly funnel our social consciousness into seed art.

In sports: According to the Associated Press, Percy Harvin was missing from Vikings practice. Harvin is missing? Somebody must have seen him! This is terrible! How do you misplace a Viking? Have they checked where they last left him? Oh, wait. He was suffering a migraine and stayed home. Sometimes you need to read beyond the headline. Although, in this instance, why bother? Football player has headache? This is news?