Gov. Tim Pawlenty rips Legislature on budget issues with toughest language yet

Gov. Tim Pawlenty
MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig
Gov. Tim Pawlenty

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.

Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller
Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller

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?

House Majority Leader Tony Sertich
House Majority Leader Tony Sertich

“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.

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Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 05/05/2010 - 06:55 am.

    I hear that Rep. Emmer is trying to “take back the state” from the the current republican governor. Hopefully Mr. Emmer will take all that Pawlenty red ink and those pesky deficits as well.

  2. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 05/05/2010 - 08:02 am.

    You would think that in a non-budget year the legislature could get done early?

    Let’s reduce the length of the session, let’s reduce the number of legislatures, and let’s reduce their per diem.

  3. Submitted by Brad Robinson on 05/05/2010 - 08:20 am.

    The Governor’s position is not about money, it’s about politics. Remember the savings he could get from a statewide teacher’s insurance plan? He’s going to veto that again because he would be doing something for someone without getting anything back. Wonderful.

  4. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 05/05/2010 - 08:43 am.

    So… when the Dems are stressed they revert to more civil, more mature, more thoughtful behavior, trying to de-escalate a challenging situation. In contrast, the governor, whose national political ambitions seem to be fading like the ecological health of the Gulf Coast, increasingly acts like a child in need of a nap who’s just been told he can’t have any of the candy that lines the checkout aisles of the grocery store to which his harried parents, needing last-minute supplies, have had to take him.

    If King Timmy doesn’t find a new way to operate, he’s going to spend the rest of his life bitterly complaining about how everyone else conspired to destroy him while, never, EVER, looking in the mirror at the man who was the true source of his problems.

    May the universe be as empathetic and compassionate to him as he has been to others.

  5. Submitted by Ambrose Charpentier on 05/05/2010 - 09:03 am.

    I notice that Tim’s mouth is beginning to develop a lopsided Dick Cheney sneer. It must be painful to be him – or his wife. I’d suggest a few shock treatments.

  6. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 05/05/2010 - 09:39 am.

    Can you say ‘grandstanding’?
    Pawlenty has given up any interest in the welfare of Minnesota — his concerned strictly with the welfare of his (so far nonexistent) national career.

    The Legislature has done its job: enacted a balanced budget.
    It’s up to the Governor to do HIS job: carry it out.

  7. Submitted by dan buechler on 05/05/2010 - 10:21 am.

    Ambrose I noticed that on the picture too, Could he have palsy? Also just got overruled on unallotment. Pawlenty may have been good at being a leader in the legislature and dealing short term as Governor (for 2 years) but he/we has/have deep problems that only more experience and better bipartisan efforts can attempt to solve.

  8. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 05/05/2010 - 04:24 pm.

    The governor has been sneering for years, usually when discussing those poor who are obviously “unworthy” because they are able bodied and childless. Like those on GAMC who earn under $8,000 per year and are usually both homeless and chronically ill.

    The Pioneer Press today reprinted a Washington Post puff piece by Michael Gerson in which he writes all the good things Pawlenty says about himself — saved the state kazillions, improved it without raising taxes, blah blah — without challenging any of it and WITH praising his commonsense, modesty and self-deprecating humor.

    If Mr. Gerson only knew what we who live here know so well. And if he would only write about it.

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