DFLers call Pawlenty 'stubborn' on his cuts

  • Article by: PATRICIA LOPEZ PLOPEZ@STARTRIBUNE.COM
  • Updated: June 18, 2009 - 11:25 AM

DFLers doubt a meeting Thursday will answer their concerns. The governor's office said the plan will save jobs.

DFLers will have a formal chance today to weigh in on Gov. Tim Pawlenty's controversial plan to balance the budget solo, but they don't expect they will tip the scale much.

"We'll have lots of questions, but we don't expect him to have a lot of answers," said House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, referring to Budget Commissioner Tom Hanson, who will preside over a meeting of legislative leaders on Pawlenty's unallotment recommendations.

Sertich and other leaders on the Legislative Advisory Commission will get a chance to grill Hanson on plans to slice $730 million from cities, counties, hospitals, social services and other areas dependent on state largesse as well as an untested recommendation by Pawlenty to employ a $1.7 billion accounting shift that slightly delays state payments to K-12 schools.

DFLers say that once again, Pawlenty has foisted a plan that has few alternatives and even fewer details about the potential effect on the state.

"We don't even know how many jobs this will cost the state," said Sertich, DFL-Chisholm. "That's unacceptable. Either they're concealing this information or they simply don't want to know." Sertich maintains that legislators routinely collect information from affected parties about effects of changes to their programs.

Brian McClung, Pawlenty's spokesman, said Wednesday that "tax increases passed by the DFL this session would have killed many more jobs than might be eliminated from state government due to these budget reductions."

McClung also noted that most state agencies had already received a 5 percent reduction under bills passed by DFLers. "We're proposing to add 2.25 percent to those reductions," McClung said, "so most of the job losses that will occur in state government were approved by the DFL."

Democrats have been frustrated at every turn in recent months and some of that came spilling out Wednesday, a day after Pawlenty announced his unallotment plans.

Senate Finance Chairman Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, said that while Pawlenty has proven to be a stubborn and wily adversary, "we allowed this to happen."

Despite large DFL majorities in the House and Senate and a mix of tax proposals that had broad public support, he said, "I don't know that we ever made the case effectively for a tax increase, and the governor's stubbornness made it difficult to get very far."

DFLers took too long to zero in on a unified, attainable tax proposal, he said, and made a critical mistake in sending Pawlenty spending bills first, which eliminated the need for a special session. Pawlenty was able to approve appropriations bills but veto the tax bill that provided the revenue, clearing the path for him to wield the emergency budget power known as unallotment.

"The governor has maintained his ideological purity on taxes, but will leave an absolute mess of a budget. That's his legacy," Cohen said.

Cohen doubts that legislators will attempt to make any revisions to Pawlenty's proposal, which will take effect next month.

A trial lawyer, Cohen resorted to the language of crime to describe his preferred course of action: "If he [Pawlenty] were interested in dealing with us in a straightforward way, I'm sure we'd be interested. But if he just wants to get our fingerprints on this, that doesn't seem advisable to me. I don't want to be an accessory to this."

Patricia Lopez • 651-222-1288

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