How would you solve budget woes?Minnesota legislators roughed up Governor Tim Pawlenty’s budget proposal in the past week.
By: By Don Davis, State Capitol Bureau, Alexandria Echo Press
ST. PAUL – Minnesota legislators roughed up Governor 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 likely will result in a $7 billion state budget shortfall.
Minnesota senators and representatives are planning a series of meetings around the state to seek public input about how to deal with a budget deficit.
A meeting in Alexandria is planned for Friday, February 20 at City Hall at 2 p.m.
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 off 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 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 of the Pawlenty budget.
McClung said Pawlenty doesn’t understand Pogemiller and other Democrats’ thoughts on education funding.
“We are surprised that democrats are proposing cuts to K-12 education,” McClung said. “The governor has said that this is a priority-based budget. The priorities include the military, veterans, public safety, K-12 education and job growth.”
The meetings later this month will seek public ideas for budget solutions, and she does not want to cement her opinions until after that.
The public may give opinions on the budget at: http://budgetforum.senate.mn and www.house.leg.