VOICES | Pawlenty’s plan will make things worse


If Minnesota’s economic recession were a 30-below zero cold snap, Governor Pawlenty’s solutions would start by turning off the furnace.

In his January 15, 2009 State of the State address, Pawlenty outlined a policy vision that compounds the present disaster with another, greater one. Facing a $5.5 billion projected budget deficit and state infrastructure already overstressed, the Governor believes massive budget and tax cuts will improve our situation.

If effect, we’re supposed to start breaking up and burning the furniture to stay warm. That’s no solution; it is a clear prescription for deepening, widening failure.

Set aside Pawlenty’s rhetorical flourishes and what’s really left? He’s not only preserved but would expand a tax structure that favors the wealthiest Minnesotans, shifting the funding burden to low and middle income earners. At the moment when Minnesota needs a fair tax system, Governor Pawlenty proposes an even less fair one.

Once again, the Governor’s ideological conservative policy orientation trumps Minnesota’s best interests.

During his speech, Pawlenty called for a “kitchen table” approach to government funding priorities, invoking a struggling nuclear family analogy. Emotionally, it was a bit strained but it wasn’t the worst perspective either.

There’s just one problem.

The kitchen table analogy only works if Minnesota’s elected public policy leaders listen to the gathered families. Based on Governor Pawlenty’s expressed policy priorities and track record, he’s not listening. He’s only interested in helping a very few families at most people’s expense.

Every family acts on its priorities. What’s important to one is not necessarily important to others. That’s why government is not a family sitting around a table, penciling out budget numbers. Government acts on the constituent community’s priorities. Whether it’s the most recent survey data or last November’s election, people are quite clear about what’s important to them.

First, protect our children’s future. Second, fix our broken health care system now. Third, reduce government waste and eliminate programs that don’t work. Fourth, restore fairness to our tax system.

Watching the Governor’s address, I was struck by his determined policy obfuscation. Despite his engaging style and inspiring references, Pawlenty outlined a policy vision at odds with Minnesotan’s needs and priorities.

The Governor’s conservative assault on Minnesota families remains unchecked. He said, at one point, “we can’t be so in love with the past that we miss the future.” And, you know, he’s right.

I have no more desire to live in 1989 than in 1809 yet I confess some nostalgia for 2002 simply because things haven’t gone so well since 2003. By most objective measures, Minnesota is sliding. We’re increasingly less educated, less healthy, and less wealthy. The only thing increasing is the price that most Minnesotans pay for ideologically conservative public policy priorities.

It’s a sad state of affairs when we pine for a six year distant past.

After six years, I retain few illusions about Governor Pawlenty’s priorities. He masterfully overhauled state government in 2003, benefiting Minnesota’s wealthiest families under a budget crisis’ cover. He’s not going to surrender those gains and, judging from his State of the State address, he’s determined to both preserve and expand them.

No amount of thoughtful discussion or analytical process is going to change that. However pleasantly he may insist otherwise, Governor Pawlenty isn’t on the side of working families. Let’s stop kidding ourselves and, instead, get down to the business of moving Minnesota forward before people start packing their kitchen tables and moving away.