Gov. Tim Pawlenty didn't sound like a particularly eager supplicant Tuesday, as he recounted for Minnesota journalists the meeting he and his fellow governors had with President-elect Obama. The topic was the possibility of federal aid for the states' foundering budgets.
Pawlenty said he shared the concern his fellow Republican governors expressed over how aid to the states would contribute to the growth of the federal debt. Its rapid increase in recent months is "gravely concerning," he said.
He expressed doubt about the one component of a stimulus package the president-elect said he was committed to providing -- infrastructure financing. Pawlenty cited debate over whether such measures genuinely aid economic recovery, and noted that infrastructure spending does nothing to address a deficit in Minnesota's operating budget.
He further allowed that if aid to the states came in the form of Medicaid funding, acccompanied by a requirement that states maintain their existing eligibiity rules for the health care program, he may refuse the help. "It is not a good deal for states that will have to slow down or peel back these programs in dramatic fashion to have their hands tied by the offer of a small amount of money. It will delay or hold back needed reforms," he said. "The strings that come attached may not be worth it."
Those comments tip Pawlenty's hand regarding the budget deficit that will be unveiled Thursday, and is widely expected to exceed $4 billion in the coming two-year budget period. As he did in 2003 and 2005, he evidently will ask the Legislature to scale back programs that provide health care for the poor. That idea met with fierce DFL resistance then. Pushing it again now, with both the House and Senate firmly in DFL control, rubs salt in old wounds -- just when the state most needs its leaders to work together to help Minnesota survive the economic storm.