Critical lawmakers dive into Pawlenty's proposed budget
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota legislators roughed up Gov. Tim Pawlenty's budget proposal in the past week. As Democratic-controlled legislative committees began to look at the GOP governor's budget, some Republicans joined Democrats in criticizing it. A ...
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota legislators roughed up Gov. Tim Pawlenty's budget proposal in the past week.
As Democratic-controlled legislative committees began to look at the GOP governor's budget, some Republicans joined Democrats in criticizing it. A few Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party lawmakers were strongly critical of Pawlenty's efforts to build a budget in deficit times, while others said they were holding their opinions until they hear from the public in a series of meetings around the state later this month.
How lawmakers deal with Pawlenty's budget proposal is key to the 2009 legislative session.
Legislators' main job is to pass a two-year budget that will spend about
$33 billion. That is hampered by an economic recession that probably will result in a $7 billion state budget shortfall.
Pawlenty released his budget proposal late last month, cutting programs, shifting some school payments into the next budget, removing people from state health programs, lowering state payments to local governments and proposing what amounts to borrowing money to pay construction loans. His plan also called for a variety of business tax cuts, including chopping the corporate income tax in half, on the theory that the move would influence businesses to spend money and keep workers employed.
He demanded that the budget be balanced without raising taxes, and he proposed to raise few fees, all the while increasing public school spending.
The governor is not surprised at the criticism.
"Legislators are treating his budget as he expected," Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said. "Legislators are critical of it, but haven't offered any plans of their own. They are doing what they typically do, just parade the budget around and state that it is lacking and conclude that the state should raise taxes, and we think that is the wrong approach."
The weight of their job is just settling in on lawmakers, who have the toughest fiscal task in the state's history.
"I can feel the angst around this table," Senate Tax Chairman Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said during a Thursday committee meeting.
Legislative meetings with Pawlenty administration officials generally have been cordial, but differences of opinion are more than obvious.
Pawlenty's budget pulls a political fast one on Democrats. He calls for increased public school funding during this budget deficit time, taking the education funding issue away from Democrats.
Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, told Pawlenty's finance commissioner, Tom Hanson, that education has to be cut along with other state spending. With public education 40 percent of the state budget, Pogemiller said, there is no choice.
"It is not in the best interest of this state to do this with bubble gum," Pogemiller said.
Sen. Julianne Ortman of Chanhassen, like Pawlenty a conservative Republican, criticized the governor's business tax cut package as not providing enough immediate help to bring them out of the recession.
Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, was critical of Pawlenty's proposal to chop state funds due cities, counties and townships.
House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, said it is premature to make comments like Pogemiller's about
cutting education spending.
Minnesota senators and representatives plan a series of meetings around the state to seek public input about how to deal with a budget deficit, including one in Duluth on Friday, Feb. 20 at 9:30 a.m. at City Hall.
Kelliher emphasized that the meetings later this month will seek public ideas for budget solutions, and she does not want to cement her opinions until after that.