Political Hay

Minnesota Miracle

Conservatives may gripe, but Gov. Pawlenty just saved the state a lot of money.

By 5.23.08

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Before the clock struck midnight last Sunday and their carriage transformed into a pumpkin, Minnesota legislators and Governor Tim Pawlenty reached a deal with local representatives worth more than just Cinderella's glass slipper and a starstruck prince.

Faced with a legislature that conjured up a veto-proof majority to override Pawlenty's veto of a recent $6.6 billion transportation bill, Pawlenty reached across the aisle to save Minnesotans money. Other politicians should take note: It is possible to get things done, even when you're outnumbered.

Not all Minnesotans are happy with the Governor's negotiations. To some conservatives, the end-of-session deals only demonstrates, on a local level, what many Republican politicians are doing on a national level: Compromising.

To be sure, the 2008 legislative session was anything but a model of small-government conservatism. It included bills that require enormous amounts of money, including $70 million to fund the Central Corridor light rail project between Minneapolis and St. Paul and $20 million to develop land for a new state park on Lake Vermillion. The legislature also passed plenty of additional regulations -- on business, health care, diesel fuel, and so much more.

One person who is not happy about this is local talk radio host and regular substitute host for Rush Limbaugh's radio program, Jason Lewis. He told me this session was "disastrous" and one that he didn't think "conservatives got anything out of."

Lewis ticked off the evidences where more money was allocated for education, nursing homes, parks and the light rail system. "The Democrats got $6 billion of their plan, and instead of bringing something of his own to the table, Pawlenty is just fine-tuning liberal legislation," Lewis complained.

WHILE IT'S HARD to defend such money-sucking projects, the flip side of the coin offers some hope to Minnesota taxpayers. Minnesota's $935 million projected state budget deficit was erased and the budget for this next fiscal year was balanced without raising taxes.

The legislature passed a Tax Bill that caps property taxes for three years (with some exceptions) and includes permanent property tax relief. This bill is a slice of heaven compared to the tax bill proposed by the Democrat house last year which guaranteed a tax increase and didn't guarantee property tax relief.

So even if Minnesota taxpayers "lost" in some areas, they avoided $5 billion worth of proposed tax increases by the Democrats, thanks to Governor Pawlenty and the Republicans in the House.

With legislature and the Governor cheering and some conservatives pouting in the corner, it begs the question of Pawlenty and other politicians in his position: What else could he have done with a Democrat-controlled legislature (and veto-proof majority)?

He might have spent more money than he should, but he also saved more than was expected. While this might sound spineless compared to Lewis's suggestion that "the Governor should tell [the legislature] he won't sign the bonding bill," what, really, would a refusal to sign a bill do? Force the legislature into special session which would rack up roughly $60,000 of taxpayer dollars a day until negotiations were reached? Offer his own bill which would not even make it out of committee?

A stubborn purist might try that route as a way of Making a Statement. It would accomplish nothing, cost Minnesotans more money, and do real harm to the governor's ability to shape the budget process. Governor Pawlenty is far from perfect and his policies are far from perfectly-conservative, but he did save Minnesota taxpayers money. Other politicians, including his friend Senator John McCain could find encouragement in his accomplishments.

The results of this session are proof positive that Republican leaders shouldn't give up trying to accomplish conservative reforms with their liberal counterparts. If they can do well with limited resources and few allies, they'll know exactly what to do when they're dealt a better hand.

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About the Author

Nicole Russell writes from Northern Virginia.