Pawlenty preps last state of the state in shadow of gridlockby Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Gov. Tim Pawlenty will deliver his eighth and final State of the State speech Thursday morning.
It will be the sixth state of the state he has given with the state facing a budget deficit. The state's ongoing budget problems have deeply divided the Republican governor and the Democrats who control the Legislature.
There's little evidence the two sides are likely to reach an agreement this year.
Here's a pop quiz for you: Do you remember the last time Governor Pawlenty and legislative leaders had a handshake agreement? If you're not sure, you're not alone. Democrats say it was a budget deal reached in May 2008.
The governor disagrees; he says it was last year.
"We reached agreement last year, on all of the major bills except the tax bill," Pawlenty said. "So there's 10 or 12 bills. I signed them all with the exception of their proposals to raise taxes."
Without a tax bill, of course, there was no agreement on the budget, which is why Pawlenty had to use what's called unallotment to unilaterally cut $2.7 billion from the spending bills he signed. Democrats joined a lawsuit against those cuts and the the Minnesota Supreme Court will hear arguments in March.
The disagreement over the last time they agreed is a sign of the times at the Capitol. Over the past eight years, there have been three special sessions: two on the budget, the first partial government shutdown in the state's history, and three instances where Pawlenty has used unallotment.
The governor has said the state budget can't continue to climb on autopilot, but Democrats blame Pawlenty for the gridlock.
"That has unfortunately been the history here that the governor has seemed to draw a bright line in the sand that he's unwilling to cross. It's hard to find compromise that way," said House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm.
Sertich said Pawlenty has been unwilling to compromise on the budget. Democrats have pushed a variety of tax increases over the years but Pawlenty has mostly resisted those efforts. The one exception was in 2005 when Pawlenty proposed a 75-cent-per-pack fee on cigarettes to help balance the budget.
Sertich said the governor's leadership style invites gridlock.
"I don't think it's really it's the governor's style to have a handshake and to compromise," he said. "Generally his style is the Legislature will do a lot of work and compromise amongst ourselves and then he sits on the sidelines until the end and gives a thumbs up or a thumbs down."
The dynamic is setting up for another logjam this year. Minnesota faces a $1.2 billion budget deficit and Pawlenty has again ruled out a tax increase to solve the problem.
Democrats argue that spending cuts should be considered but are skeptical the shortfall can be erased without new revenue. Mix in a possible presidential run by Pawlenty and several lawmakers with their eyes on the governor's mansion, and the possibility for agreement gets more difficult.
Republican Rep Kurt Zellers, who is in his first year as House Minority Leader, said part of the problem is that Republicans and Democrats have core philosophical differences on the budget.
"The end-of-the-game fight of whether we raise taxes or whether we don't, I think that's going to be there all of the time," Zellers said. "It always has been in the time that I've been here. In the past, maybe it was fees versus taxes but when you look at the budget deficit and you see 70 percent of it comes from personal income, I don't know who you can go to and say 'give me more money.'"
Zellers is careful to mention that he believes the budget solution should not include a tax increase.
State Sen. Steve Dille, R-Dassel, a veteran of the Legislature for nearly 24 years, said it hasn't always been this way. He said the partisanship at the Capitol is the worst he's ever seen it, and that things have gotten more partisan during Pawlenty's eight years in office and worries it will continue.
"The future can be predicted partly by what history tells us, and history has not been very indicative of a cooperative relationship between the two parties under the Pawlenty Administration," Dille said. "I would say that using the past as an indicator, the future for the next few months and the rest of this year will be like it was in the past, fairly partisan and very difficult to reach consensus and reach final solutions."
Dille doesn't have a solution about how to end the partisanship, and he's not going to try anymore. He's retiring after this year.
- Morning Edition, 02/11/2010, 7:20 a.m.