The lead letter to the editor in Sunday’s Des Moines Register sure jumped out at me while I was in Iowa for the weekend.
It was signed by former Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson, and starts out praising the early political career of Tim Pawlenty, another former Minnesota governor, but ends up criticizing Pawlenty’s later handling of Minnesota’s budgets.
“Pawlenty used accounting tricks to balance budget” is the headline.
Carlson said Pawlenty started out as a moderate Republican (which is where Carlson stands, although the current crop of Republicans in Minnesota think he’s stepped over the line and is almost a moderate Democrat now). But Pawlenty moved to the right and “publicly condemned the very policies he previously supported, including cap and trade, global warming, gay rights, and spending and tax policies,” the letter said.
And Carlson is perplexed by Pawlenty’s criticism that Minnesota’s budgets are out of control, because “those were the very same budgets he helped shape and pass into law.”
As Pawlenty moved to the right, he adopted short-term budgeting fixes and abandoned sound conservative financial principles. Instead of balancing the budget by either reducing expenditures or raising revenue, he decided to “borrow” $1 billion from the tobacco settlement and from there went down the path of accounting shifts and eliminating inflation from spending projections while maintaining it for revenue in order to make budgets appear to be in balance.
Minnesota now faces a massive $5.1 billion deficit and Pawlenty has declared that he had nothing to do with it. As a matter fact, in the same column he stated that he left the state with a $662 million surplus.
How could that be? Well, it would be like looking at your bank balance of $250 and declaring that you have a $250 surplus. That sounds wonderful. But you forgot about the $700 in checks that had not yet cleared the bank. The truth is you have a $450 deficit.
Frankly, we can do better.