Last week, Gov. Tim Pawlenty gave the state Legislature’s bonding bill a haircut almost as extreme as the one Javier Bardem wears in No Country for Old Men. In fact, much of the recent drama over the bonding bill seemed like a pale reprise of the Coen Brothers’ screenplay, with Pawlenty trading in his veep-quality coiffure for the malevolent comb-over of “No Country” villain Anton Chigurh, who kills at the toss of a coin. In the first scene, the governor warned legislators not to bond more than $825 million, but they passed a $925 million bill.
Governor: You know how this is going to turn out, don’t you?
Governor: I think you do.
Once he had killed $100 million in spending from the bill, Pawlenty just kept killing. His vetoes mowed down $208 million in 52 line item cuts until $717 million was all that was left to be signed. The governor reserved the biggest single cut — $70 million — for the Central Corridor light rail transit line between St. Paul and Minneapolis, a project he had included in his own bonding proposal. Capitol observers as well as legislators themselves were stunned. With $450 million in federal funds and what St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman called “the largest economic development opportunity in our region’s history” at stake, it seemed almost random to kill something that only weeks ago you wanted alive.
Governor: What’s the most you ever lost on a coin toss?
Governor: The most. You ever lost. On a coin toss.
When Pawlenty struck with his veto pen, it didn’t matter if you were dead or alive: Como Zoo’s gorillas won’t get new habitats, but neither will the stuffed mountain goats, beavers and lynx at the Bell Museum of Natural History, now stuck in front of painted dioramas on the University of Minnesota’s East Bank campus since the cutting of funds for their migration to new digs in St. Paul. Thirteen people may have died nine months ago when the I-35W span fell, but the governor didn’t shirk from cutting down bonding projects that would have replaced two other aging bridges, including one (St. Anthony Parkway in Minneapolis) that, were it to fall, would land on the Northstar Commuter Rail line, another transit project that Pawlenty has both supported and opposed. But beyond arbitrary havoc, most see the line item cuts as payback for the Legislature’s override of Pawlenty’s transportation bill veto, with special venom for state Rep. Alice Hausman (DFL-St. Paul), co-chair of conference committee that agreed on the $925 million bill and a leading transportation bill veto-overrider, whose city the governor’s veto pen slashed most cruelly.
Pawlenty Chief of Staff Matt Kramer: Call me when you’ve had enough. I can even let you keep a little of the money.
Hausman: If I was cuttin’ deals, why wouldn’t I go deal with this guy Pawlenty?
Kramer: No no. No. You don’t understand. You can’t make a deal with him. Even if you gave him the money he’d still kill you. He’s a peculiar man. You could even say that he has principles. Principles that transcend money or drugs or anything like that. He’s not like you. He’s not even like me.
Well, maybe Pawlenty is not such an indiscriminate killer after all: As Andy Birkey noted here earlier, most of the district-specific cuts occurred in Democratic districts.
Monday’s lesson: Don’t cross the Gov, or he’ll cross you out.