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Pawlenty’s budget statements are true, but not his veto claim

A screen shot of Gov. Tim Pawlenty during his speech to the 2009 Values Voter Summit.
A screen shot of Gov. Tim Pawlenty during his speech to the Values Voter Summit.

As he raises his national visibility with speeches, television appearances and other public statements, speculation grows that Gov. Tim Pawlenty will run for president in 2012. This is one of an occasional series of articles that examine Pawlenty’s statements about his work in Minnesota and topics of national interest.

Pawlenty Watch

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As a Republican governor from a state with a Democrat-controlled legislature that has swung left in the last nine presidential elections, Minnesota’s Tim Pawlenty has repeatedly tried to reinforce his conservative credentials in recent speeches he has made across the country.

Just this month in a speech to social conservatives in Washington, D.C., for example, Pawlenty emphasized his work to balance the state budget and the numerous vetoes he has made as governor.

But in an effort to present himself as a cool-headed conservative bent on straightening out a left-leaning state, Pawlenty misrepresented his veto record and omitted some key facts about this year’s budget realignment.

Here’s what Pawlenty said:

“So, in Minnesota in this budget, by way of example, we’re reducing spending in real terms 7.6 percent.  I’ve got the most vetoes of any governor I think in Minnesota history.  And we’ve reduced spending by the largest margin in the modern history of the state, and we’re turning that left-of-center state into a fiscally responsible state.”

Truthfulness rating: True on the budget figures, but false on the veto claim

Pawlenty’s statements about this year’s budget are true. But he fails to provide valuable context by omitting that a significant portion of the spending reductions are achieved through payment shifts and one-time money installments from the federal stimulus package. 

On the veto issue, Pawlenty does not have the most vetoes of any governor in Minnesota history, according to the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library. At this point in Pawlenty’s governorship, that distinction goes to former Gov. Arne Carlson, also a Republican.

Analysis of budget statements
According to the state’s Department of Management and Budget, spending has been reduced by 7.6 percent, or $2.59 billion, in the current budget. Both Mark Haveman, executive director of the conservative Minnesota Taxpayers Association, and Nan Madden, director of the progressive Minnesota Budget Project, agree with this figure.

The Minnesota Taxpayers Association also agrees with the governor’s historical perspective when he says, “we’ve reduced spending by the largest margin in the modern history of the state.”

“With regard to spending reductions, the governor is right, as least as far back as 1970,” wrote Aaron Twait, research director for the Minnesota Taxpayers Association. “… The state had relatively small spending reductions (or very low rates of growth) in the early 1980s and again in the early 2000s; but nothing like what is predicted for the upcoming biennium.”

(See page 3 of this PDF.)

Haveman said that even though inflation ran rampant in the recession of the 1980s, state income tax revenues at the time would have gone a long way to canceling out the impact of inflation in Minnesota.

“We had serious state income tax revenues coming in during that time, it was a cash machine,” Haveman said.

“I really, really doubt [that we would have seen less spending during those years because]… I think the revenue system largely kept up with it.”

Haveman added that he couldn’t speak to conditions during the Great Depression, “which might be the only time the current circumstances have been given a run for the money.”

So, to recap, Pawlenty is right when he says that spending has been reduced by 7.6 percent in this budget. And he is most likely right when he says that spending has been reduced by the largest margin in the modern history of the state (“modern” being defined as the last four decades).

But when Pawlenty says “we’re turning a left-of-center state into a fiscally responsible state,” things get a little blurrier, according to Haveman and Madden.

“Fiscal responsibility, in this context, is a very political issue,” Haveman said.

“Clearly the Democrats would say, ‘No, we are obviously falling behind significantly in public spending that is important to the state and not keeping up with the inflationary costs,” said Haveman. “And the governor is making the argument that we have to start being real and keeping our spending in line with revenues that we are bringing into the state.”

Madden added that Pawlenty also left out valuable information by failing to specify that many of the spending reductions were achieved through deferred payments and one-time federal dollars received through the stimulus package.

“$1.8 billion of the savings is from shifting when school districts get their money, and these figures also include the temporary impact of federal recovery funds, which allow the state to temporarily reduce its funding in certain areas and replace them with federal dollars,” Madden said.

For instance, schools usually receive 90 percent of their funding in one lump sum, followed by the remaining 10 percent at a later date. Under this budget, however, schools will only receive 73 percent of their funds at first, shifting a larger percentage of their payments into the future, according to Madden.

Likewise, Minnesota usually pays for 50 percent of Medicaid costs in the state and the federal government picks up the rest. But under the federal stimulus bill, the federal government is temporarily assuming around 60 percent of those costs in Minnesota.

“I am certainly not faulting the governor for using those federal dollars,” said Madden. “The issue is that there is no plan for what we are going to do in the future when those dollars go way.”

The changes, therefore, are not permanent.

“It is not a permanent solution to an ongoing revenue problem,” Madden said. “You will see a lot of changes made in this biennium popping back into place.”

In fact, in 2012-2013, the projected budget shortfall is expected to be $4.43 billion, which is close to the shortfall that the state faced in February of this year, according to Minnesota Management and Budget.

“We would argue that it is not fiscally responsible to leave a large projected budget shortfall in the next biennium [fiscal year 2012-13), which currently is the case,” said Madden.

Response from governor’s office
In response, Brian McClung, the governor’s deputy chief of staff, said that the projected $4.43 billion budget shortfall for 2012-2013 assumes that the entire K-12 payment shift be fully paid on time.

“In practice, aid payment shifts have typically been paid off over more than one budget period,” McClung wrote in an email. “If the payment shift is not repaid at that time, the shortfall would be $3.2 billion.”

Additionally, McClung said that if state spending is maintained at 2008-2009 levels, plus a small increase, the state would have a balanced budget in 2012-2013.

“DFL legislators and others who are whipping themselves into a frenzy over the state budget outlook are doing so with one purpose in mind — they want to raise taxes,” McClung wrote. “They have been desperate to raise taxes for years and now their anxiety appears to be bubbling over.”

McClung added that raising taxes was no “way to attract and keep jobs.”

But, Madden said, the fact is that state spending does not just remain flat due to factors like inflation, increased health care costs and cost-of-living adjustments. 

Therefore, without increased revenues, Madden argued that it would take another massive and probably painful reordering of the budget to keep spending at 2008-2009 levels.

“It is certainly possible to do that, but it would mean a reduction in services to make that happen,” Madden said.

On that point, Haveman agreed.

“Is it possible that the [2011] Legislature will agree to hold the spending constant for another biennium?” Haveman asked. “They could agree on that, but it would likely require some extraordinary cuts.”

Analysis of veto statement
Pawlenty said that he thinks he has the most vetoes of any governor in Minnesota history. But, so far, that record is held by Arne Carlson, according to the Minnesota Legislative Reference library.

Here are the veto totals as of today:

Full bills vetoed (including pocket vetoes):
Pawlenty: 78
Carlson: 127

Pocket vetoes:
Pawlenty: 5
Carlson: 8

Bills with line-item vetoes (number of lines vetoed):
Pawlenty: 22 (142 lines)
Carlson: 52 (243 lines)

Total — full bills vetoed and lines vetoed:
Pawlenty: 220
Carlson: 370

Total — full bills vetoed and bills with lines vetoed:
Pawlenty: 100
Carlson: 179

The legislative library’s figures go back to 1939, according to reference librarian Paul Vancura.

Vancura said that while it is possible that a governor had more vetoes before 1939, it is highly unlikely because the action was simply not used very often.

“I can’t guarantee it, but it is unlikely,” Vancura said.

Response from governor’s office
MinnPost contacted Pawlenty’s office about his veto statement. A representative from the governor’s office, Christie Calvin, said Pawlenty had meant the most vetoes in one year of any governor in Minnesota history.

“The governor had the most vetoes in one year, which I believe was during the 2008 session,” Calvin wrote in an email. “That information can be found through the Legislative Reference Library.”

MinnPost went back to the Legislative Reference Library and found that it depends on how you measure vetoes.

If you only count full bills vetoed, plus pocket vetoes, Pawlenty holds the record for most in one year. In 2008, he had 32. But if you count full bills vetoed plus lines vetoed, then the distinction goes to former Gov. Jesse Ventura for 115 in 2002.

Either way, Pawlenty did not specify in his speech that he was referring to a one-year record for full bills vetoed. Instead, he implied something much broader when he said that he thought he had the most vetoes of any governor in Minnesota history.

He does not, so MinnPost finds this statement to be false.

Cynthia Dizikes covers Minnesota’s congressional delegation and reports on issues and developments in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at cdizikes[at]minnpost[dot]com.

Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 10/01/2009 - 10:11 am.

    So Tim shaded the truth in order to look prettier to a Con audience?

    Imagine that!

    I’m sure this is just the very tiniest beginning to the miracles that he’ll be claiming for his time in Minnesota by the time we get to the spring of 2012.

    Of course the MSM, being universally owned and kept by Con’s themselves will be only to happy to tout and trumpet his claims without ever doing even the tiniest little bit of research or fact checking.

    This is going to be a very long haul.

  2. Submitted by myles spicer on 10/01/2009 - 10:55 am.

    Pawlenty also failed to note the disasterous effects his “no-tax” program has had on the poor, the counties and cities, and on Minnesota’s previously stellar record on education and health. Sadly, I believe he is now prepared to say whatever is needed to tarnish a terrible record of governance of our state, as he pursues his dream of presidency. He could have been the voice of moderation in a party now totally devoid of reason and purpose — instead he elected to join the neo-cons and participate in their nonesense and shrillness.

  3. Submitted by donald maxwell on 10/01/2009 - 11:46 am.

    Mr Pawlenty is richly deserving of the appellation “Mr Shifter”, or more briefly “Shifty”.

    No wonder he decided not to run again for governor. Someone else will have to deal with all the burden he has shifted to the future.

    Not to say that Pawlenty would be worse as president than the other wannabes that are courting the big money of the far right. There seems to be a contest going on to see who can show the most disdain for those fellow citizens of ours who have been dealt the worst hand in income, education, and health. “Let them eat cake” has not been cried out so strongly for a long time. But “Let them eat cake” has been disguised as “Cut big government down to size”.

  4. Submitted by Nancy Gertner on 10/01/2009 - 01:58 pm.

    Too bad Governor Pawlenty wasn’t at Jimmy John’s today to impress the ‘value voters’ with his credentials. There was a long line of people lined up for $1.00 sandwiches today at Jimmy John’s sandwich shop on Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis, and I’m sure they’d all be very impressed at what the good governor has done for the quality of life in Minnesota.

    Yeah, let’s take that Minnesota Miracle National, and expand our Quality of Life to 300,000,000 North Americans.

  5. Submitted by Paul Scott on 10/01/2009 - 03:00 pm.

    I know we are not supposed to engage in name calling in these comments, but I really think there is reasonable data to support changing all future references to the governor’s deputy chief of staff as Brian McDumb, for his demonstrably –willfully? it really makes his job easier — dumb analysis of the opposing party’s motivation. “They have been desperate to raise taxes for years,” he said, ” and now their anxiety appears to be bubbling over.”

    It really must make life in the Pawlenty bubble so much easier to tell yourself that democrats think like this. But just as one doubts that Pawlentyis eager to throw people off social programs for the fun of it, DFLers surely do not wake up in the morning wondering how they can raise taxes next. And when McLovin, I mean McClung says that raising taxes was no “way to attract and keep jobs.” one really has to wonder how long you get to keep doling out this threadbare mantra six years into “no new taxes” and Minnesota shedding jobs quarter after quarter.

  6. Submitted by Eric Larson on 10/01/2009 - 03:19 pm.

    Given: That Minnpost is crawling with lefties. To deny the given is to not play this game or believe that the Strib was not crawling with lefties 15 years ago. Those were the crucial years when so many dropped the paper because of it’s cover to cover bias.

    Point: Headline of todays edition of MINNPOST. Make hay about a throwaway line that has a qaulifing statement by Tim Pawlenty. He did say
    “I have the most vetos….I think….. In history” He thought wrong. Small point. But that is the headline for todays issue of MINNPOST. “Pawlenty makes false claims” Conclusion: Senior Staff/Editors at MNPOST are either

    1. Biased as the old strib ( who runs MNPOST?)
    2. Or is planning on running the same petty hard hitting headlines over their favorite left of center candidates later. Don’t hold your breath.

    We are in the beginning or middle of ‘make or break’ time for this journal. Will they go the same way as the Strib? Or will they practice even handed journalism? Guess we’ll see. Wonder if they will post this?

  7. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 10/01/2009 - 03:51 pm.

    News Flash! Where you stand affects what you see!

    The STRIB was never anything but middle of the road and I believe it’s demonstrable that it lost its subscription base when it was bought out by big money people who demanded a more conservative direction both from its editorial staff and in the types of stories it covered and the way it covered them. The same thing happened to WCCO AM a bit earlier. For the STRIB, this also happened to coincide with the movement of a great deal of advertising to the net.

    Of course the amazing stupidity of the level of debt each new set of owners took on in the multiple buyouts of the STRIB turned out (predictably) to be a huge hole in the boat. The staff and management simply couldn’t bale fast enough to keep the ship from going down.

    If any of my fellow readers are desperate for a news source which reflects a Con bias, I’m sure the weasel would be more than happy to oblige. Things are so much simpler there and you can actually feel your emotional stability slipping away and your I.Q. dropping points as you watch, which helps strip away all that uncomfortable complexity and ambiguity in the world and soon leaves you unable to comprehend anything else but the Con perspective (as it currently exists).

    Just don’t come back over here and complain that Minnpost doesn’t agree with the B.S. you see on the weasel.

  8. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 10/01/2009 - 04:00 pm.

    I strongly doubt that Arne Carlson or any other truly conservative politician would cut the poorest and sickest Minnesotans (sometimes mentally ill and living on the street)off their access to health care.

    To cut funding for both HCMC and Regions, where they and many others without insurance and/or employment go for care is to compound the cruelty by forcing the hospitals to cut both staff and services.

    To say the poorest/sickest can move over to MinnCare is silly, since that program has something like 25,000 MORE applicants than usual and is way behind processing them.

    Pawlenty is fond of saying in nationally broadcast/telecast situations that he is leaving Minnesota better than he found it — and without raising taxes. I guess he hasn’t studied the results of his actions.

  9. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 10/01/2009 - 04:23 pm.

    No, B,… sadly, this is his DEFINITION of better.

  10. Submitted by Jeff Kline on 10/01/2009 - 04:40 pm.

    I have to agree with Eric Larson that some of the stories on here are very left favored and in the case of this story; very tained with the writers personal observations and interpretations from what he saw and heard. Often; a person in disagreement with another tends to not hear parts of what the other is saying. I tend to believe that might be the case here.

    The liberal left element sure seems to complain a lot about a lot of things. And this story sure seems to be very representative of that. Sorry; but I’m being truthful in my observations.

  11. Submitted by Ted Snyder on 10/02/2009 - 07:14 am.

    MN’s flirtation with left of center took place many years ago. It has been a solidly centrist state since then. TPaw is polishing his right wing credentials to a very, very high sheen — to the point of unreality: most Minnesotans supported the gas tax proposal for transporation, which Pawlenty vetoed and was overridden. Yes, he is running for president.

  12. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/02/2009 - 01:44 pm.

    “most Minnesotans supported the gas tax proposal for transporation..”


    “Minnesotans aren’t clamoring for action from state leaders in the wake of the Interstate 35W bridge collapse, a new Star Tribune Minnesota Poll has found, supporting neither a gas tax increase nor a new special session to fund bridge repairs.”


    “The latest Minnesota Public Radio-St. Paul Pioneer Press Poll shows a slight majority would oppose an increase to the gas tax or their license tab fees to pay for transportation projects.”

    The poll found 50 percent of respondents opposed raising the gas tax, while 46 percent supported it.”

    Did someone say something about “unreality”?

  13. Submitted by Rebecca Hoover on 10/03/2009 - 11:15 pm.

    Pawlenty has been a lousy governor and for some odd reason he never owns up to his appointment of Molnau, a woman without a college degree, as Commissioner of Transportation, nor does he own up to the bridge collapse that killed Minnesotans–thanks to Molnau. Mr. Pawlenty, was it really fiscally responsible to let a bridge disintegrate to the point it collapsed, there were numerous severe injuries and people were killed. Was it fiscally responsible to create a condition under Minnesota had to pay damages to the families of those killed and injured?

    Moreover, Mr. Pawlenty does not bring up all of the sleezy politicizing of state government agencies that he ushered in. He does not bring up the fact that he ignored problems identified by auditors and let his appointees (friends) run their agencies as they wish–to heck with the law and auditors. And how about all of those political cronies he tried to hide in state agency budgets?

    Ironically, Pawlenty is one of the worst governors Minnesota has had when it comes to “fiscal responsbility”. Pawlenty does not know what the terms means. Some national press review of Pawlenty’s actions will be fun.

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