When news came on Tuesday that Minnesota’s economic and financial situation had improved a little bit from the $1.2 billion state budget deficit lawmakers were told they’d need to plug this year, two men named Tom were the ones charged with delivering that news in a press conference you can watch here.
Tom Stinson, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Department of Applied Economics, is Minnesota’s State Economist, a position he has held for more than two decades.
He’s the one who crunched the numbers and came to the just-released conclusion that the state’s deficit for the remainder of this budget cycle through next June has improved to $994 million.
His February update also includes dire warnings that the state’s next two-year budget cycle could rack up a $5.8 billion deficit, without factoring inflation and assuming that ugly cuts Gov. Tim Pawlenty made unilaterally last year hold up.
Stinson is a contract employee for the state and has come under fire in the past from Pawlenty’s administration for warning that the state’s budget problems are more severe than the turmoil caused by the current recession, for saying that government spending through the state bonding bills and federal stimulus bills can and has helped create jobs, and that government spending today is taking less of Minnesotans’ personal income than at any time in the last 15 years.
Tom Hanson, on the other hand, is Pawlenty’s commissioner of Minnesota Management and Budget, the state agency charged with putting together Pawlenty’s budget proposals and monitoring how the money is spent.
Hanson is a lawyer and political appointee of Pawlenty’s who has served Pawlenty or the Republican Party most of his career, including his previous job as Pawlenty’s deputy chief of staff and director of cabinet and legislative affairs.
It’s his job to argue for Pawlenty’s budget priorities at the Capitol, both in committee hearings and behind closed doors with state lawmakers, and also to put the best possible face on the Pawlenty agenda.
While Stinson is occasionally the subject of derision from within the Pawlenty administration for his dour predictions about the future (see this presentation he and State Demographer Tom Gillaspy gave lawmakers last fall), Hanson is regularly the subject of scorn by House and Senate DFL leaders for his optimistic takes on the impact of Pawlenty’s budget cuts and creative math skills.