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‘Budget gap’ between GOP governor and DFL Legislature seems to be growing

Ah, those poor DFLers in the state Legislature.

While Gov. Tim Pawlenty is essentially saying, “Let’s dance!’’  DFLers are walking around mumbling, “Hey, we gotta sit down and talk about how we’re gonna pay the fiddler.’’

Pawlenty unveiled his revised budget this afternoon at the state Capitol, announcing that he had some “good news’’ on ways to solve the state’s projected $4.6 billion deficit for the next biennium.

Who among us doesn’t want good news in these difficult times?

The governor then laid out a budget for 2010-2011 that calls for no new taxes, plus a few million in increases over the budget he’d proposed only a few weeks ago. K-12 would get an additional $424 million in this new budget. Higher education would see cuts restored. There’d be $10 million restored to the state courts system. Even the poor wouldn’t have to worry about losing medical benefits, until 2011, under the new Pawlenty program.

Governor still critical of stimulus funds he’ll take
All of these additional funds are available because of $2.6 billion coming into the state’s budget from the federal stimulus program. The governor, by the way, still doesn’t think the stimulus plan of President Barack Obama is very good.

“My concern remains that it’s not targeted enough,” said the governor of the plan that seems to be making his life a whole lot easier these days. He would have liked to see “more cash in the pockets of individuals” through tax cuts. He would have liked to have seen “more meat and potatoes” infrastructure projects.

But he said the stimulus program “is law … so we’ll take it.”

That the governor is an ungrateful recipient of one-time federal money no longer is news.

The question of the day is: Why are DFLers so grumpy about Pawlenty’s budget?

DFLers attack Pawlenty plan
“Smoke and mirrors,” said Sen. Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud, the Senate’s assistant majority leader.

“A cruel hoax,” said Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, the Senate’s majority leader.

“He’s deluding people who are facing hard times,” said Speaker of the House Margaret Anderson Kelliher.  “. . . There’s nothing here to solve the state’s long-term problems.”

The governor’s plan for solving the state’s budget problems is all based on one-time money. There’s $2.6 billion from the feds. There’s close to $1 billion in selling off the tobacco money that was supposed to come in for years to come. There’s accounting shifts amounting to another half-billion or so.

But then, after the 2009-2010 biennium, all of that money is gone and the state’s budget problems will be greater than ever, DFLers say.

“We’re going to go over a massive cliff,” said Kelliher. The “hard truth,” she said, is that Minnesotans need to come up with a budget that calls for long-term “shared sacrifice.”

‘Out years’ of the following biennium at issue now
That’s where the big issues seem to lie now in this legislative session – the so-called “out years” of state finance. The governor and the Legislature have agreed that not only will they balance the next biennium budget, which they are required by the state Constitution to do. They’ll balance the the 2011-2012 budget as well.

In a way, the debate seems sort of Alice in Wonderland-ish. Everything’s upside down. You’ve got DFLers talking about looking ahead, making reforms—and yes, raising revenues to prepare for the days when the one-time money will no longer be there.

And you’ve got a conservative Republican saying, “Why worry now?”

Kelliher sees the irony.

“We seem to be the fiscally responsible people in this,” she said of the DFLers. 

Both seem to make points.

Essentially, Pawlenty is saying in these brutal economic times, it’s foolish to worry about the out budget.

DFLers say Pawlenty’s 2011 budget would hurt poor
Besides, he says, he’s got a plan. And that plan would come down especially hard on the poor, who depend on state medical insurance programs.

As soon as 2011, Pawlenty would start making the “reforms” in Health and Human Services that would start lopping off people who now get state health insurance help. The only reason that reform hasn’t started now  is that the feds said states couldn’t get Medical Assistance help if they didn’t maintain current eligibility guidelines.

Pogemiller and Rep. Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, the House majority leader, say that Pawlenty’s “out” budget would brutalize the poor.

Under the “out budget” plan tossed out by Pawlenty, Pogemiller says, there would be a 35 percent cut in health care.

“That’s for seniors; that’s for the most vulnerable people in the state,” added Clark.

Sertich predicted that the governor’s plan would end up with hospitals across the state being closed. That’s because under the governor’s plan, health insurance for many of the poorest adults would be cut off. Hospitals, which still would be required to treat those people, would then draw money from a pool that Pawlenty plans to create.

What’s it all mean?

Winter has become spring and the distance between the Republican governor and the DFL-controlled Legislature seems to be growing, not narrowing.

And, of course, hyperbole fills the air.

The governor says that a DFL plan to raise taxes on the wealthiest Minnesotans would not only make Minnesotans the highest-taxed people in the country but would reach down to those making $65,000 a year — if it were to raise $2 billion.

Pogemiller countered that the tax plan being floated was never intended to raise $2 billion and that only those families with an annual income of $250,000 or more would see an increase.

He also said that the governor’s out-year plan to cut local government aid would costs cops and firefighters their jobs and forces increases in property taxes.

Pawlenty said that cities need to do a better job of prioritizing in order to preserve the jobs of cops and firefighters.

Etc. Etc. Etc.

The Senate has begun to come forward with its budget plans. The House is expected to announce its budget “targets’’ by the end of this week.

Meantime, back and forth they go. Where — and when — they’ll stop, nobody knows.

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 03/18/2009 - 09:17 am.

    WOW! The DFL will actually come up with a budget proposal! Amazing! I guess you can only “listen” to the special interest groups for so long.

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