Gov. Tim Pawlenty chose a lovely spring day to rip into the state Legislature with some of the strongest language he’s used in his eight years in office.
“Pathetic” and “ridiculous” were among the words the governor chose to described the DFL-controlled Legislature as he demanded that members balance the budget based on an assumption that $400 million of federal money won’t arrive in Minnesota by the time the session ends late next week.
His tone seemed surprising.
“They’ve spent all kinds of time accomplishing all sorts of nothing,” the governor said.
Afterward, Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller suggested, in the calmest of terms, that “he must be having a bad day.”
All of this was perfect, though predictable, political theater.
The angrier Pawlenty acts, the calmer Pogemiller responds.
“It would be helpful if he’d tone it down a notch,” Pogemiller said.
Both Pogemiller and House Majority Leader Tony Sertich made several veiled references to the governor spending considerable time out of state during this session, little digs that they know get under Pawlenty’s ever-thinning skin.
The problem boils down to this: In budget-balancing acts, both the governor and the DFL-controlled Legislature have counted on $408 million of enhanced federal matching funds for state Medicaid.
“While the anticipated net $408 million for Minnesota in the federal legislation may eventually be passed by Congress, passage is not assured,” Pawlenty wrote to DFL legislative leaders. “Even if passage occurs, it will likely not take place before the end of the 2010 legislative session.”
Pawlenty then laid out a sketchy plan for balancing the budget — a total of $536 million more in cuts.
There was $405 million in his original budget proposal that he said should be cut. (Pawlenty was very vague about where that $405 million would come from.) He would whack another $30 million from his favorite target, Local Government Aid. He would take $65 million from the Douglas J. Johnson Trust Fund, this is Iron Range Resources Board money that is paid to local governments there in lieu of property taxes. He would whack another $36 million from health and human services funding, primarily money that is to pay providers.
All of this seemed remarkably vague and left legislative leaders pointing out that even Republicans had rejected parts of the governor’s initial budget proposal. That he’s coming back with it now seems “irrational” to Sertich.
Was Sertich calling the governor irrational?
“If you’re rebuffed time and time again,” Sertich said, “you would think that a rational person would come back with something different.”
Pawlenty, playing the tough guy role to the hilt, said that if the Legislature doesn’t meet his demands by session’s end, he’ll have “options,” including vetoes and unallotment. (His unallotment authority currently is being considered by the state’s Supreme Court.)
Repeatedly, Pawlenty bashed the Legislature, including its work on a health and human services bill that was being debated even as the governor spoke. He promised to veto either the Senate or House versions of those bills, a threat that seemed premature to Pogemiller.
“We haven’t passed anything yet,” said Pogemiller.
And by the way, the governor said he would allow nothing that included a tax increase. That includes any tax money for a Vikings stadium.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.