Democrats will continue to discuss unallotment
ST. PAUL - "Unallotment" is a strange word to most Minnesotans, although those who get state money know it well.
In the coming months, Democrats are likely to drill home that word so all Minnesotans hear that Gov. Tim Pawlenty unilaterally cut the state budget (known as unallotment), and Democrats will point out that occurred with support of other Republicans. It is the beginning of the 2010 election season.
Legislative hearings already are under way to investigate the impact of Pawlenty's Wednesday budget cuts. And House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, said plenty more can be expected before the Legislature returns to St. Paul at noon next Feb. 4.
If the past is any prologue, those hearings will feature large doses of the Democrats' version of what happened in the 2008 Legislature.
"There is an attempt to rewrite history," said Kelliher, who is expected to soon announce a campaign for governor.
Kelliher and fellow Democrats are trying to label Pawlenty and other Republicans as policymakers who cut the guts out of programs that help struggling Minnesotans, programs such as provide health care to the poor.
Another Democratic-Farmer-Labor governor candidate, Sen. Tom Bakk of Cook, said Pawlenty's cutting is killing jobs: "The Senate tax bill I authored invested more than $300 million in job creation policies. It's the governor's action, not the Legislature's, which in the end will cost the state thousands of much-needed jobs."
The argument that will be repeated time and again in coming months boils down to whether Democrats' $1 billion tax increase or Pawlenty's unilateral cutting of $2.7 billion from the state budget was the best for Minnesotans.
Those cuts, known as "unallotment," took effect Wednesday, the first day of the state's $31 billion, two-year budget.
Pawlenty delays state payments to schools $1.8 billion, with smaller cuts to local government aids, health and human services programs and state colleges and universities. Also, all state agencies are expected to cut an average of 2.25 percent from their budgets, although Pawlenty exempted public safety, veterans and military programs from those cuts.
Republicans plan to support Pawlenty's cuts, even though he is not seeking re-election in 2010.
A former GOP lawmaker and current Taxpayers League of Minnesota president, Phil Krinkie, laid the blame for failure to balance the state budget at Democrats' feet.
"After five months of the Legislature's failure to balance the budget without a tax increase, the governor signed the budget bills that had been passed by the DFL-controlled Legislature and stepped up to the plate, saying he would take care of the remaining budget shortfall," Krinkie said. "The Legislature will be back in St. Paul again next February, and they will certainly have another chance to see if they can do it any better."
New state GOP Chairman Tony Sutton said the party will work on explaining the benefits of limited government and lower taxes to voters.
"We haven't done a good job communicating" those Republican priorities, Sutton said.
"I look at 2010 as being about jobs," he added.
Democrats will not argue about that. But they will argue about whose plan is best for Minnesota job creation.
State Economist Tom Stinson, respected by Democrats and Republicans alike, told a legislative commission Tuesday that the direct impact of Pawlenty's unallotment will be the loss of up to 4,700 jobs, mostly in state and local governments, including schools. However, many more are in danger from an indirect impact of the cuts.
Had Democrats' $1 billion tax increase passed, Stinson estimated that 1,000 jobs would have been lost.
House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said Stinson's numbers show that Pawlenty's cuts cost three to five times more jobs than a tax increase would have.
However, Commissioner Tom Hanson of Minnesota Management and Budget said the immediate job numbers do not tell the whole story.
The DFL tax proposal, vetoed by Pawlenty, would "put us out of competition with jobs in the long run," Hanson said.
The delay in school payments is of particular concern to some Democrats.
Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, said Pawlenty has authority to cut budgets (a statement some of his DFL colleagues don't buy), but he cannot legally delay payments to schools. Pogemiller accused Pawlenty of cooking the books to accomplish that.
Pogemiller and others say that while Pawlenty may be able to cut, he cannot promise the money will be repaid in the next budget. Only the Legislature may appropriate money.
"This is not a shift; this is a cut to schools," said Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, chairman of the Senate Education Committee. "If you take money away but don't have a plan or the ability to pay it back, that's a cut. Commissioner Hanson acknowledged these cuts would be on the state books 'in perpetuity.'"