Deficit dominates the day

In State of State, Pawlenty calls on citizens to do their duty

Andrew Pritchard

Gov. Tim Pawlenty asked Minnesotans for courage and sacrifice to face “The Incredible Hulk of budget deficits” in his first State of the State address Thursday.

“We’ve got a new kind of state budget,” Pawlenty said. “It’s terrible.”

The Republican praised two Minnesota survivors of World War II’s Bataan Death March, and he recounted the story of Minnesota’s first Civil War regiment, which lost 82 percent of its men at the Battle of Gettysburg.

“Minnesotans have courage. We understand commitment to principle and the need to sacrifice in times of crisis,” Pawlenty said. “And we need that now. We have to perform our duty, so let’s get at it.”

The governor said the state’s revenues are projected to grow by 6.6 percent in the next biennium, while spending is expected to increase 14.4 percent.

“The deficit we face is caused by spending too much, not by taxing too little,” Pawlenty said, drawing cheers and applause from lawmakers.

He repeated his campaign promise to not raise taxes and said Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, both Democrats, have made similar pledges.

“The good news is that if we make the tough calls now, our budget situation is going to come around within three years,” Pawlenty said.

Education

Pawlenty also proposed several education reforms, beginning with changing the Department of Children, Families and Learning’s name back to the Department of Education and abolishing the controversial Profile of Learning graduation standards.

“We still have a great education system, but we’ve become complacent and we’re treading water,” he said. “We need to reclaim our place as the best education innovators in the country.”

Pawlenty also called on parents to support their children’s education and said the state should focus on its neediest children and pay its best teachers more.

The governor said he will appoint a panel in the next few weeks to craft a new funding formula for calculating each school’s per-student allocation from the state.

Economy

Pawlenty said the Legislature should adopt his JOB Zones plan to boost greater Minnesota’s economy and stop the exodus of Minnesota jobs to other states.

“We’re the place that invented toasters, thermostats, water skis and Spam,” Pawlenty said. “We heal the world, feed the world and sell the world pacemakers. We dug the iron ore that won two world wars, but our economy is in deep trouble.”

He said the state has lost 38,000 manufacturing jobs in the last four years, nearly wiping out the 1990s job growth in manufacturing.

“I’m sick and tired of stimulating the economies of places like Wisconsin and South Dakota with our Minnesota jobs,” Pawlenty said.

As part of his economic plan, the governor said he will promote greater cooperation between the University and Mayo Clinic to develop new medical advances and will seek to “rekindle the entrepreneurial spirit” in state colleges and universities.

Health and safety

Pawlenty drew applause when he repeated his call to put immigrants’ visa expiration dates on their driver’s licenses.

“We shouldn’t give a four-year driver’s license – Minnesota’s most important identity document – to people who may be here legally only a few more weeks,” he said.

The governor also promised a new Office of Justice Programs to help crime victims, a “shake-up” at the Department of Transportation and a blue ribbon health care task force led by former U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger.

Welfare protests

Approximately 20 protesters organized by the Welfare Rights Committee protested Pawlenty’s welfare reform proposals in the State Capitol and could be heard chanting, “Not from the poor; cut from the rich” throughout the speech.

The governor proposed several welfare reforms last week, including more stringent work requirements and harsher penalties for recipients who break program rules.

Amid signs reading “Chop the top” and “Trent Lott would be proud,” protester Angel Buechner of Minneapolis said Pawlenty shouldn’t use welfare cuts to balance the state budget.

“Make the rich pay for this because they’re the ones who got us into this crisis,” she said.