Pawlenty: Use constitution to cap government spending

  • Article by: BOB VON STERNBERG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 5, 2009 - 3:13 PM

The state's general fund budget would be frozen in line with revenue received during the previous budget period under a constitutional amendment proposed today by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

The amendment, if placed on next year's ballot by legislators and approved by voters, would limit government spending and force legislators to set firmer priorities, Pawlenty said.

If the proposed "Spending Accountability Amendment" had been in place in 1960, general fund spending since then would have been reduced by over $22 billion, an average of more than $900 million for each two-year state budget cycle, Pawlenty said.

The DFL legislative leadership immediately blasted the amendment.

In a prepared statement, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher called it "a formula for disaster in Minnesota, as it has been everywhere else it's been tried. It will cripple our schools and hospitals, not to mention the businesses that rely on a vital economy to survive." 

Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller and Tax Chairman Tom Bakk said Pawlenty's proposal raises many unanswered questions, including whether the outgoing GOP governor has lived up to its goals himself. Bakk sent Pawlenty, inviting him to a tax committee meeting on Dec. 7.

Pawelnty's proposed amendment reads: "Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to require that state government general fund expenditures be limited to the amount of actual general fund revenues received by the state in the previous two-year budget period?"

Pawlenty likened the current system of basing state spending commitments on estimated revenues to building a house on a foundation of sand. The amendment would eliminate those revenue "guesses," he said.

The proposal would allow additional expenditures to provide for the public safety, or health in the event of a declared national security or peacetime emergency.

Pushing his proposal at a state Capitol news conference, Pawlenty said that during the past 40 years, state spending increased by, on average, more than 10 percent per year, but has grown by only 2 percent a year during his tenure.

His proposal comes at a time when Pawlenty has been burnishing his conservative credentials -- including limiting government spending -- and raising his national profile as a potential presidential candidate in 2012.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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