Commentary

Honesty lacking in Pawlenty budget strategies

Two weeks ago, in his State of the State address, Governor Tim Pawlenty used a lot of adjectives to describe the state's $4 billion-plus budget deficit. Huge. Mean. Ugly. He even called it "the Incredible Hulk of budget deficits." Two weeks ago, in his State of the State address, Governor Tim Pawlenty used a lot of adjectives to describe the state's $4 billion-plus budget deficit. Huge. Mean. Ugly. He even called it "the Incredible Hulk of budget deficits."

On a certain level, the terms are accurate. This is an enormous budget shortfall and all of us should be concerned about its affect on the quality of life in this state.

However, in more ways than one, Gov. Pawlenty is using the current budget crisis as cover for an agenda that threatens more than just the state's checkbook. He also isn't being up front about the direction he's taking all of us.

Take the terrorism initiative passed during the first week of the session. During last fall's campaign, Gov. Pawlenty made a big issue about printing the expiration date on the driver's licenses of "foreigners" – his word – claiming that the rationale is to protect us from terrorists. But let's be honest here: we all know better. This bill isn't going to protect us from any would-be terrorist. It's not about helping law enforcement officials with homeland security. This is about fear and suspicion. This is about using the tragedy of September 11 to score political points with people who, more than anything, want to be reassured by their leaders that something -anything- is being done to protect us from terrorists.

The irony is that after pushing this initiative through the House in the first week, Gov. Pawlenty then turned around and cut $3 million for anti-terrorism training and equipment that was supposed to go to local police departments, money that had at least a chance of making us safer.

This isn't the only case of the Governor saying one thing and doing the opposite. In his State of the State address, he talked about providing all schools with the resources they need. A day later, he cut $26 million in school funding. He tried to deflect criticism by saying the funding wasn't for classrooms, but let's be serious: if you cut things like school readiness programs, science and math initiatives, magnet schools funding, teaching and curriculum funding and emergency services grants, it's going to trickle down to the classroom.

It's just like with his guiding principle in the budget debate -No New Taxes. What the Governor isn't telling you is that property taxes don't count in that pledge. He says that's because any increase will be the result of "local decisions." I say that's semantics. If you cut the amount of money the state sends to local communities to pay for vital services like schools, courts, public safety and health care, it's going to lead to property tax increases. There's no way around that.

The Governor knows that, too, just like he knows that the $26 million he cut from the state education budget is going to affect classrooms across the state or that his health care cuts are going to leave a lot families without health care coverage. He just doesn't want to tell you that.

I said earlier that the language the Governor used to describe the budget deficit was accurate. This is a big deal. However, we need to be careful that our solutions don't do permanent damage to Minnesota or change us in ways that we shouldn't be changing. The only way we can ensure that doesn't happen is to be honest and up front about what we're doing.

February 17, 2003
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