OPINION| Pawlenty plan is recipe for massive job losses

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The legislative session is over. In case you missed the final episode, it turns out the guy we saw all winter behind the Governor’s podium acting like the cop trying to arrest the job-killers was actually the perp himself.

Estimates are that between 20,000 and 30,000 mainly private-sector jobs will be lost as a result of Governor Pawlenty’s succeeding in forcing through his all-cuts/no-newtaxes approach.

The job losses will be a surprise to many. Blame that on Stockholm Syndrome.

The Capitol press gave the public a daily diet of Pawlenty and Rep. Marty Seifert railing that taxes kill jobs. Unreported went the testimony of State Economist Tom Stinson that state budget cuts would cost more jobs than a similar dollar amount of tax increases.

Pawlenty had it exactly wrong. The public had it right. Pawlenty vetoed the tax increases on high income and alcohol that a Star Tribune poll showed two-thirds of Minnesotans viewed as preferable to his level of budget cuts.

The Legislature passed similar taxes Monday night. Those too will be vetoed after the session.

After eliminating the possibility of new revenues, 48 hours before the end of session, Pawlenty laid out for the first time a surprise $1 billion in additional budget cuts.

Pawlenty’s office argued the Legislature shouldn’t hold any hearings on the Governor’s brand new budget cuts. But hearings were held. Mayors identified the extent of police layoffs that would be required. The AP reported University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks told the commission the loss in state aid would result in approximately 15 percent tuition increases and layoffs of as many as 750 people—on top of jobs already being eliminated.

“The cuts would be really savage and severe,” Bruininks told a legislative commission. “I think they would cost the state money, cost the state opportunity and cost the state additional jobs in the private economy, so I think it’s a really bad bargain for the state to make.”

Throwing the University of Minnnesota under the bus was apparently worth it for Pawlenty because he got strong praise from local movement conservatives such as Sarah Janacek and Annette Meeks. In Politics in Minnesota, Janacek wrote a glowing account she called “Pawlenty as Patton,” with Pawlenty as the Decider blocking the Capitol door to the taxers. Right army, wrong general. I provided a response: “Pawlenty’s Last Stand.”

Pawlenty then hit the movement jackpot with special praise from K-street gatekeeper Grover Norquist, the guy whose stated view of government is we ought to shrink it until it would fit in a bathtub and drain away.

Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform called Pawlenty a “Hero of the Taxpayer,” commending him for “upholding his Taxpayer Protection Pledge and vowing to balance Minnesota’s budget without any tax increases passed by the Legislature.”

Janacek and Meeks say Pawlenty is on his way nationally now. It may not be a moment too soon for the governor because last week’s KSTP poll said 57 percent of Minnesotans do not want him to run for reelection.

That number will only grow when the Pawlenty layoffs start mounting, and the next wave of Pawlenty property tax increases hit. The governor was able to hold all the Republican legislators with him on override votes. Unfortunately, he may be too busy elsewhere to share their task of explaining to local voters why their local property tax increases, hospital job losses, cop layoffs, nursing home inadequacies, community college cutbacks and squeezed schools were preferable to asking high-income Minnesotans to begin paying tax levels almost as high as that paid by the middle class..

In past years whenever Pawlenty forced Republican legislators to walk the plank with him like this, many were defeated by Democrats the following year. Expect the same next year. When Pawlenty was first elected governor, 60 percent of the seats in the Minnesota House were Republicans. They now hold only slightly more than a third.

Republicans used to talk about big tent and small tent. Because of Pawlenty, they have added a special category: pup tent.

This session did cement Pawlenty’s reputation as an intransigent movement conservative. But that gold star may not take him very far. Right now, the Republican Party is a party of the South and dominated by evangelicals.

Pawlenty has no juice with evangelicals. Last year, he fought against all the evangelicals’ presidential choices as a campaign co-chair for John McCain. GOP polls show Sarah Palin, George Romney and Mike Huckabee are the party’s favorites. Pawlenty is nowhere on the radar screen in these polls.

If the GOP goes big tent, Pawlenty is even more an outsider. A movement is already afoot to bring the party back toward the center. The Republican U.S. Senate campaign committee is throwing Pawlenty-style Club for Growth U.S. Senate candidates under the bus in states outside the South, places like Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Delaware. They are backing moderates with good environmental records (whose university presidents probably don’t view them as “savage”).

In Florida, 15 minutes after Gov. Charlie Crist announced last week he would run for U.S. Senate, he drew endorsements for the national GOP and its Senate committee.

They endorsed him over a highly regarded movement conservative, even though Crist had just agreed to raise a billion dollars in new cigarette taxes to help solve Florida’s budget crisis.

Crist is definitely not your Grover Norquist Republican. Crist incurred the wrath of Rush Limbaugh for standing with President Obama in favor of strong federal stimulus recovery legislation. He put his people over his politics. Crist and Gov. Schwarzenegger are backing strong environmental reforms. For Republicans trying to regain a national footing, a guy like Crist is the future. He knows how to work in a bipartisan way to get things done. Pawlenty is the George Bush past—obstructionist, Governor Gridlock, Governor Go it Alone. That might appeal to the Republican hard-core anti-taxers, but that hard-core can’t win national elections.

Pawlenty does use a faux big tent argument. In speeches in Washington, he says the party needs to reach out to convert working-class Democrats–by arguing that tax cuts for the rich will bring them jobs. Next time he gives that speech, he may want to add an explanation why in last week’s KSTP poll, 80 percent of Democrats think he should not run for reelection.

But Pawlenty doubtless will give it a shot nationally. So I’ve decided to help him.

Here, Governor, are three questions you will need to prepare yourself for in your first presidential candidate press conference.

“Governor, back in Minnesota you thought it was better to take away health coverage from 100,000 low-income persons rather than ask those with highest income to give back some of their tax cuts. How did that all work out?”

“Your state suffered a disastrous bridge collapse. Afterward, you vetoed the legislation that would have provided the finances to repair the bridges next in line to fall. Does that mean keeping your Taxpayer Protection Pledge is more important than saving lives?

“In 2009, when you added massive job cuts onto massive unemployment, you were described as the state’s job-killingest governor ever. Do you plan to do for the nation what you did for Minnesota?”

Wayne Cox is executive director of Minnesota Citizens for Tax Justice.

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