Want a list of reasons why our elected leaders won’t solve the state’s budget deficit by May 17 like they were supposed to? Let’s count the ways in which they will fail:
1) Tim Pawlenty is running for the Republican nomination for President, and he can’t sign any bill into law that includes new revenues to help the state out of its budget deficit.
2) DFL lawmakers won’t agree to ratify all of Pawlenty’s unallotment cuts unless every Republican in the Senate and House of Representatives votes for them, and they won’t because taking direct responsibility for those cuts would kill their chances in November.
3) Republican lawmakers have every incentive to make the DFL leadership look like it can’t get anything done and no incentive to help fix the mess as they go into the November elections.
4) DFL lawmakers won’t agree to a budget deal that doesn’t include new revenues because they’d have agreed to hurt the poorest and most vulnerable Minnesotans while leaving the wealthiest untouched. Incompatible with reason 1.
5) $408 million in enhanced Medicaid matching funds won’t be approved at the federal level before the Legislature adjourns, yet the money is essential to any budget deal.
6) Nobody really knows for sure how big the budget deficit is anymore, since the MN Supreme Court ruled Pawlenty’s unallotment actions did not follow the law. A best estimate from Minnesota Budget Bites is that there’s still $700 million to cover, if the Legislature agrees to ratify Pawlenty’s delayed payments to K-12 school districts, but it’s still not clear how much of his $2.7 billion got wiped out in the court decision.
7) The House may be prepared to go along with that K-12 shift, but the DFL Senate under Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, shows no signs of agreeing to any of Pawlenty’s actions from last year. That shift represents $1.8 billion.
8) House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, is the DFL Party’s endorsed candidate for governor, and won’t be able to reprise her past role as the sane, rational adult in the room when she and Pawlenty and Pogemiller meet to find an agreement. After last year’s ultimatum by Pawlenty, I doubt she’d be so inclined anyway.
9) All 201 seats in the Senate and House are up for election in six months, yet the fiscal budget biennium doesn’t end until June 30, 2011. That means politicians can worry first about their own skins and then come back next year to try to fix the problem. Republicans will be dreaming of taking back the House and maybe even the Senate in a wave election, while Democrats will dream of what they could do if they hold the Legislature and win back the governor’s mansion. So no incentive to compromise.
I haven’t lost any money being too pessimistic about the ability of the current crop of state leaders to pull together and solve problems, and I don’t think I’d lose any more here, if I was a betting man.