Pawlenty: An Economic Pro Or Crafty Budget Setter?

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A no-new-taxes philosophy guided Tim Pawlenty’s budget approach as Minnesota governor. Accounting tricks, a well-timed infusion of stimulus money from Washington and word games kept the Republican mostly on that course.

The newly minted presidential candidate hopes Republican primary voters will see him as an economic pro accustomed to dealing with red ink and capable of confronting the nation’s colossal fiscal problems.

“Minnesota’s big-government legacy presented me with the same type of problems Barack Obama found in the nation’s capital,” Pawlenty said this week of the Democratic president he hopes to unseat. “But my approach — and my results — were very different from his.”

He planned to press the theme Wednesday in a Washington speech at the libertarian Cato Institute, an appearance that’s part of a weeklong series of events timed around his announcement this week of a presidential candidacy.

On the campaign trail, the Republican eagerly highlights his tall pile of tax-increase vetoes. And he boasts of enduring a partial government shutdown as well as a workers’ strike to contain costs.

But his record also carries vulnerabilities for foes to exploit.

There’s the carefully crafted “health impact fee” on cigarettes. It’s a euphemism for a tax increase in the eyes of some allies and most opponents.

Minnesota lurched from one deficit to another under his eight-year tenure. The state’s books technically balanced when he left office in January, but by then a mammoth deficit was forecast for the first budget his successor would need to craft.

Pawlenty distances himself from that projected $5 billion shortfall, but it’s partly attributable to temporary fixes he either proposed or consented to. Schools are owed more than $1.4 billion in state IOUs, one-time stimulus dollars used to prop up ongoing state expenses are drying up and short-lived spending curbs Pawlenty first enacted using his executive powers are expiring.

His defenders, such as former Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum, say Pawlenty had to work within the confines of a politically split state government and wanted to be more aggressive than Democrats in the Legislature would permit.

“It took some patchwork, no doubt,” Sviggum said. “But the fact is, we were able to meet the constitutional charge of balancing the budget without raising taxes.”

Taxes did rise in the Pawlenty era, although his fingerprints aren’t on them.

His veto of a gas tax increase was overridden and voters raised the sales tax through a ballot measure. Property taxes shot up in the Pawlenty years, mostly those enacted by city, county or school governments as they coped with stagnant or falling state aid. The year he entered the governor’s office, Minnesota land owners paid about $5.1 billion in property taxes; the total take topped $8 billion when he departed.

“Tim Pawlenty consistently passed the buck — onto local governments, onto the Legislature, onto anyone he could,” said state Rep. Paul Thissen, the top House Democrat. “His budgets were filled with shifts, tricks and gimmicks that created perpetual state deficits and set Minnesota behind the rest of the nation.”

Then there are fees.

The state slapped higher surcharges on everything from speeding tickets to marriage licenses. None was more controversial than the 75 cent-per-pack levy on cigarettes, which helped break the stalemate that pushed Minnesota to a government shutdown in 2005.

Pawlenty insists the cigarette “fee” is directly linked to health costs attributable to smoking, and the state Supreme Court vouched for that terminology when tobacco companies sued to block it.

Anti-tax groups, including the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, regard it as clear blemish on Pawlenty’s record.

“I still call it a tax increase even though the Supreme Court blessed it as a fee, not a tax,” said Phil Krinkie, the league’s president and a former Republican legislative colleague of Pawlenty.

GOP primary voters looking for a Pawlenty scorecard will find a mixed appraisal from conservative groups.

The conservative Club for Growth gave Pawlenty a less-than-flattering review Tuesday, saying his ideological moorings may not be as strong as he’s projecting.

“A President Pawlenty, we suspect, would fight for pro-growth policies, but would be susceptible to adopting `pragmatic’ policies that grow government,” the group concludes in a white paper on him.

But the Cato Institute, which advocates for smaller government, gave Pawlenty one of four “A” grades for governors in its latest rankings. He wasn’t always in the group’s good graces.

Chris Edwards, Cato’s director of tax policy studies, said Pawlenty’s frequent vetoes, ready use of executive budget-cutting powers and advocacy of corporate tax cuts account for his high marks now.

“In the last four or five years, he has followed very much of a small-government approach on fiscal policy,” Edwards said. “Perhaps he knew he was going to run for president.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

  • P. Helmuth

    Three card monte scammer would be a better description.

  • Crystal Charley

    Let’s see, Pedders is in the slammer for fast shuffle accounting and Timmy the Twerp runs for national office. There is a lesson to be learned here.

    • Charlie

      Crystal… You ar so far out there we can hardly see you… and can barely hear your BS! BTW, it is Petters… shows how up to speed you are, I guess…
      Just a huge stretch on your part, so we wonder how his finance mgmt affected you? Otherwise, you would not have an axe to grind… even if you have to make it up!

      • Jennifer

        Interestingly, I was researching the new budget proposals and ran across a situation where the working poor had to have their health care insurance overhauled due to the program going bankrupt. Outraged because the new proposed system is downright harmful and will affect MY taxes and the way they are used, I wanted to know more. Come to find out, the system was perfectly fine, paying for itself in EVERY WAY and even had a surplus. Then, Tim Pawlenty has a budget issue. He shifted the GMA onto the working class poor, so they would have to pay for this program. The working class poor who are making no more than 20 thousand dollars a year or so. That’s how Pawlenty was able to say he was keeping an budget without raising taxes. He ruined their healthcare plan and we will all pay for it in the future. The poor. This is like me asking my children to pay for the groceries, using a credit card in their name. No worries, it helps me keep my budget balanced. And those kids should really get a better job, the lazy bums.

  • Murph

    Tim believes that he cemented his conservative credentials by pulling doctor ordered food supplements from Minnesotas most vulnerable citizens.His crowning achievement he thought and crowed!.After his district court conviction for violating the State constitution.He abruptly abandoned his state duties to try to be POTUS.His courage to stand matches that of the political pundits who continue to not mention his most predatory and alarming act as governor.He would ruin the country even more and heaven help anyone who can no longer help themselves!

    • Chuck

      You know full well how hat played out and he was not responsible for most of that… He would have cut more if possible, but the Dems would not let him… so you are lucky more wasn’t cut!

      Nice example that you used here to stir it up, but how real do you think that is?

      Nice try at the cry baby routine….

      • Jennifer

        ‘he was not responsible for most of that’

        Interesting way to make a factual statement that would debate the issue.

        ‘cry baby routine…’

        That doesn’t accurately reflect the statement or perceived emotions Murph described. However, often a person will reflect their own emotions onto others, it’s a type of defense mechanism called projection.

  • stop racisism

    pawlenty doesnt care about black people we are still waiting for him to visit north mpls after all these years and a deadly tornado he still wont show his weasel face never has he done anything for blacks we dont want him for president

    • Charlie

      So why would he come there now? He has no direct tie….

      I guess he could have pulled an Obama and made a press event out of it…
      even when he has no credit due or responsibility there!

      • Jennifer

        He has no direct ties? I may not know a single person or family in the area, but I’m still a Minnesotan, just like Pawlenty. As a Minnesotan, I’ve checked into seeing how I can help, what is needed, how people are doing. Tim Pawlenty was the Governor of the state, and during that time did he visit the north Mpls area? I hope so. Did he pay attention to the needs and obstacles people were facing? I hope so, he was leading our state. And now that he is running for national office, is he paying any notice to the people who are most in need? I would hope so, but there is no evidence that any of my hopes are true. And that is simply wrong.

  • yep

    My taxes went up so I call him a liar.

    • Chris

      Read the story… he was not responsible for most of that…
      He would have cut more if possible… the Dems made him do the fees, etc…
      He is not a liar, so get over it.

      Also, if he would have done the cuts to avoid any property taxes, etc, you would be really crying! Which way do you want it?

  • No new taxes - pshaw!

    I’ll never forgive him for making me pay for the Twins stadium via a sales tax increase. That’s why I don’t want to see it happen again with the Vikings.

    • Chris

      What the heck is that for a lame statement???

      The Twins stadium is a Hennepin County deal, so now you are blaming him?

      Get over it and put the blame where it should be….

      Although it has proven to be a nice success story… so what is your point?

  • Brian

    This is utterly hilarious. He thinks the Republican Party is going to nominate him? Then he thinks he’s going to be elected President? The only reason he didn’t run for re-election in the last MN Governor’s race is because he knew he didn’t have a prayer of winning THAT office. It’s like asking to borrow a dollar, getting turned down, then asking for 20 grand a half hour later. I can’t wait for the loud “thud” to be heard when he goes down…

    • Slim

      He may not get elected, but keep your facts straight….

      He could also have had a cake walk getting re-elected to Gov…. but that was never his plan.

      • Brian

        Wouldn’t his run at the Oval Office have more momentum if he actually held an elected office now? Of course it would. However, running for office and losing (which is what would have happened here last Nov.) would be much worse for him than holding no elected office at all. That way, it looks like it was his choice to take a break from politics and let his term expire, when in fact he was just saving himself from an embarassing loss in the 2010 gov.’s race.

  • me

    An Economic Pro Or Crafty Budget Setter? Um, neither.

    • al

      how about… just a plain ol’ slimebag.

    • Jim Bob

      How about “empty suit”?

  • Chris

    Yep I agree w/ Brian. T-Paw, slug that he is, saw the writing on the wall last year. He had not a prayer of getting re-elected. So he decided to make it look like he was leaving the office of his own volition, rather than run again and lose. He saw the writing on the wall. Too bad he doesn’t see it this time, because he still doesn’t stand a chance.

  • sackofshat

    is timmy boy.

  • gtV

    On his watch he left this state with a messed-up budget–$6 Billion in the red! If he becomes President can he handle a national budget and deficit that is, at least, 30,000 to 40,000 times larger than Minnesota’s state budget and deficit? Just a thought.

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