Tim Pawlenty and Walter Mondale Trade Barbs in Minnesota Shutdown Blame Game


State Shortfall a Potential Problem for Pawlenty?

David Schultz, a professor of public policy at Hamline University in Minnesota, pointed out that Pawlenty deserves some blame for the latest shutdown in the North Star State.

"Pawlenty left the budget deficit problem for Gov. Dayton and the Republicans to address. He left office with the state approximately $5 billion to $6 billion in the hole," Schultz said.

"He came into office with a fairly large deficit and during his eight years in office, he never really solved the structural problems facing Minnesota's deficit. He pretty much just rolled the problem from year to year until he was no longer governor and he did that by rolling obligations into the future and doing a variety of budget shifts. So he left the state fiscally in a pretty bad position, forcing Republicans and Democrats to deal with the current problem.

"Short of talking to the most partisan Tim Pawlenty supporters, you will probably get a consensus that he left the state in a financially very bad position," Schultz continued. "In his last two years in office -–from when he started campaigning for John McCain back in 2008 -– he pretty much ignored the state and his approach to dealing with the state's budget problems seemed to be akin to sort of saying, 'Shove it into the future. Why do I have to worry about it?'"

That record, Schultz believes, could pose a serious problem for Pawlenty as he seeks the GOP nomination.

"I think it potentially hurts him in a couple of ways," he said. "People are going to start to look at where Minnesota is today. Here's a state with a huge budget deficit and he's running on the claim that he can go to Washington and solve the budget problems there. I'm not sure that works for him. I don't think he can really say that he left the state in better fiscal position than what he inherited," Schultz said.

Of more pressing concern for tens of thousands of Minnesotans than the 2012 election is the 2011 shutdown. Now into its sixth day, the deadlock in St. Paul has left 23,000 state workers furloughed, state parks closed and numerous industries that depend on state regulations devastated.

All told, the shutdown, Schultz said, could have increased the state's unemployment rate by a full 1 percent. While Mondale and Carlson Tuesday formed a bipartisan panel to come up with "a third approach" to solving the fiscal shortfall problem, Dayton met with the state's top GOP legislators in the capital, but no agreement was reached.

Dayton and Democrats want to address the red ink mess by raising taxes on the wealthy, which has been rejected by Republicans.

"When Dayton ran for governor he explicitly said that if elected he would deal with the deficit by raising income taxes on the top 2 percent of earners in Minnesota and by spending cuts," Schultz said. "Republicans ran on a platform promising not to increase taxes. That's the bottom line dispute we have: How much to spend and whether we're going to address the deficit with spending cuts alone or with cuts and tax increases."

One issue that could help end the stalemate, Schultz said, is that Dayton is not up for re-election until 2014, while Republican legislators are up for re-election next year.

"Whoever voters are angry at, that's who is in trouble. The Republicans are up for re-election sooner, so they are probably going to feel more heat," he said, warning, however, that "this could drag on for some time."

"I could see it going on for several weeks."

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