Minnesota Shutdown: Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann Put National Spotlight on State Battle

Home-grown presidential candidates draw attention to Minnesota deficit.

July 1, 2011 -- The shutdown of Minnesota's government reverberates beyond the North Star State to include the Republican presidential primary because two of the GOP's top candidates hail from the state.

One of the candidates, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, oversaw a shutdown of the state government six years ago. Pawlenty was at the helm in 2005 when the state came to a grinding halt for 10 days because of a spending impasse.

The other candidate, Rep. Michele Bachmann, solidified her standing as Tea Party darling when earlier this year she urged Republicans in Congress not to fear a federal government shutdown -- or "slowdown," as she called it -- in their own funding fight in Washington.

The latest Minnesota shutdown comes after the state's leaders disagreed on how to deal with a $5 billion deficit. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Minnesota's GOP-controlled legislature were at odds on how to solve the shortfall.

In a deadlock that echoes of the battle in Congress earlier this year when the federal government came within hours of shutting down, both parties in Minnesota have starkly different approaches to solving the red-ink mess. Democrats such as Dayton want to raise taxes on the rich, a move that Republicans vigorously oppose.

At a hastily called news conference Thursday evening at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport, Pawlenty urged his state's GOP legislators not to yield to Democrats.

"Both in Washington, D.C., and in St. Paul, the Democrats continue their thirst for more spending and more taxes," he told reporters. "And that's not the right direction for Minnesota and it's not the right direction for our country.

"So I feel strongly that the Democrats should do what everybody else is doing across this country -- families, small businesses and others -- and that's live within the means that are available. They should stand down on their quest to continue to raise taxes and spending.

"Both in [2005] and now, you had Democrats demanding that we raise taxes and raise spending. And that's not what the people in this country need. It's not what our government finances need," he added. "We have to get government spending under control. The Democrats won't do it. I applaud the Republicans for standing strong and encourage them to keep standing strong."

But critics have said Pawlenty bears some responsibility for the predicament, accusing him of balancing the books using accounting gimmicks and then leaving the state in financial disarray. The former governor adamantly denies the charge.

"The last budget for which I was governor ends tonight at midnight and it's going to end in the black," he said. "It's going to end with a surplus. And as to the next budget that has a projected deficit, it's based on a massive increase in spending that I never would have allowed as governor.

"If the state government would simply live within the revenues that it has available, it wouldn't have any deficit at all. That's what families all across the state are expected to do. That's what people are doing. Government should do the same."

While critical services will continue in Minnesota during the shutdown, the government impasse will have serious consequences for thousands of laid-off state employees. In addition, state parks and rest areas have been shuttered.

During the fight in Congress earlier this year over a federal shutdown, Bachmann argued that a government "slowdown" would be worth it in an effort to try to defund President Obama's health care overhaul.

"I applaud Minnesota Republican legislators for standing up to reckless spending and higher taxes," she said today in a written statement. "At a time when families and businesses are stretched to the limit due to high federal taxes and a history of excessive executive waste, the last thing the people of Minnesota can afford is higher taxes.

"Hopefully, Governor Dayton will realize that fiscal restraint is what is necessary to strengthen the Minnesota economy and create jobs."


The issues central to the fight in Minnesota are at the heart of the debate in Washington about how to raise the nation's $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, while at the same time reaching an agreement to reduce the country's deficits in the future. Obama and congressional Democrats want to help reduce the deficits by raising taxes but Republicans, led by House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky have refused.

Obama said in a news conference at the White House earlier this week, "You can't reduce the deficit to the levels that it needs to be reduced without having some revenue in the mix. And the revenue we're talking about isn't coming out of middle class families who are struggling; it's coming out of folks who are doing extraordinarily well."

Vice President Joe Biden had been meeting for weeks with congressional leaders from both parties in an effort to hash out an agreement to raise the nation's debt ceiling before Aug. 2.

After Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada blasted Republicans for bailing on the negotiations because they refused to scrap tax breaks for Big Oil companies or do away with tax loopholes for corporate jets, McConnell replied that the GOP simply will not agree to higher taxes as the country continues to try to recover from recession.

"They're saying that it's essential," he said. " We think it's a job-killing step that shouldn't be taken."