Gov. Tim Pawlenty began Tuesday looking for $2.7 billion in budget cuts, a chore left undone by the DFL-led Legislature when it adjourned late Monday night.
"The sky is blue and the sun is out and the thoughts of Minnesotans are turning toward Memorial Day and the summer and things like fishing and outdoor activities and the wonders of Minnesota in the summertime," Republican Pawlenty said during a mid-day State Capitol news conference that included rural reporters via conference call.
While Democratic legislative leaders flew around the state Tuesday to put their spin on the recently ended session, Pawlenty stayed in St. Paul, meeting with his commissioners to begin compiling prospects for cuts in order to balance the state budget.
"We have some challenges in front of us," he said. "Minnesota can do this. I*'m absolutely confident and optimistic that we will get through this. It doesn't mean they won't be some challenges in front of us, but Minnesota is a wonderful state ... and we're going to meet these challenges and move forward in a positive direction to grow jobs in this state, continue to improve our education system ..."
Pawlenty pledged last week that there would be no special session and no government shutdown, that he would fix the budget himself if no agreement was reached.
He said he would veto a last-minute tax bill that would raise $1 billion mostly from new taxes on people making $300,000 or more. Doing so would mean his tools to balance the budget are line-item vetoes of spending bills and unallotment of authorized spending.
"Government needs to do what everyone else has done, and that is over this period of crisis to tighten its belt and live on a little less money for a while until the economy gets better," Pawlenty said.
Pawlenty said his cuts will be in line with three principles -- there has to be a balanced budget, you can't spend more than you have, and it's not wise to raise taxes during the worst recession in 60 years.
"Most folks in the country understand that," Pawlenty said about raising taxes. "Unfortunately, we've got some folks here in Minnesota in the DFL-controlled Legislature who disagree with that perspective."
No special session looming, "the legislators are gone and they're not coming back," Pawlenty ty said.
He meets again Thursday with his cabinet to discuss the process of finding $2.7 billion in budget reductions by the July 1 biennium start. He's calling the process open and invites Minnesotans and stakeholders to suggest budget cuts.
A special e-mail has been set up, email@example.com, to take suggestions from citizens. The administration will also reach out to key stakeholders such as cities, counties, health care providers and others.
"I want to make sure we don't drag this process out," Pawlenty said. "We've got a budget cycle that begins July 1 ... so we want to be prepared to have our plan in place and implemented as the new biennium begins."
For the two-year budget cycle ending June 30, Pawlenty said the state will have spent $33.9 million. It will spend 3 to 4 percent less in the upcoming biennium. "That is no different than what families and businesses all across the state are doing -- tightening their belts -- the sky isn't going to fall and we can get through this. Frankly, the state of Minnesota can reduce its budget by a few percent and continue to maintain the excellence that this state has come to know."
Unallotment "isn't an option, it's a duty," the GOP governor maintains, even though it's never been used at the beginning of the session. State law, he said, notes that the governor "shall" unallot when the budget is out of whack. "Once a budget shortfall has been determined, the budget must be balanced."
He said that "the good news is that there will be no government shutdown, no special session and state government will continue in most respects as it is. But there's going to have to be some trimming. In total, to bring this budget into alignment again, including the federal money, it's only going to be a few percent reduction, 3 to 4 percent. I think Minnesota can and should tolerate that. I think that Minnesotans expect that."
Despite Pawlenty's deep cuts to medical care for the poor, Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said Tuesday that the cuts won't take effect until 2011 and the Legislature can work on another solution next year.
"We're not going to put any people out on the street," he said. "We just need some reform."
Ingebrigtsen said people need to make more use of clinics rather than emergency rooms, and that they should be able to afford a $3 co-payment, which is now voluntary.
"Leadership is supposed to do that, and Democrats are leading -- very poorly right now," he said. Ingebrigsten was interviewed night in Bemidji, as he came to offer the Republican spin on the session. DFL leaders were in Bemidji earlier Tuesday.
Even though Democrats knew going into the session that Pawlenty would not agree to new taxes, Democrats at the 11th hour push through a tax bill with $1 billion in new taxes which members were not even allowed to seek details on, let alone debate it. The move caused a shouting match in the concluding minutes, with Senate Republicans calling the process a sham.
"He told them time and time again we're going to solve this without raising taxes," Ingebrigsten said of Pawlenty. The majority DFL "is required to step up to the plate, and they didn't."
Ingebrigten called Pawlenty "a governor that's governing."
Republicans offered other revenue-raisers but they were rejected by Democrats, he said, such as a racino that would raise $1.2 billion or video gaming in bars that would raise $500 million.
Democrats "failed to set priorities right out of the chute," he said, adding that the Senate DFL position was initially 7 percent cuts across the board. "That's not prioritizing, that's throwing 7 percent out knowing very well that's just a starting point."
DFLers missed on innovative reforms, he said. For instance, Pawlenty will unallot monies paid to counties with high public land ownership, called payment in lieu of taxes. Ingebrigsten's solution is to sell public land to make up the lost aid.
"We need to start going with a no-net policy in the state of Minnesota," he said. "We need to start selling some land that's not needed. We are the third biggest landowner behind the federal government and Alaska."
State government needs to be smaller, the Republican senator said. "It is really easy to spend somebody else's money. That's what's going on right now and we have to stop it. The people of Minnesota deserve better. We have to stop the growth of government, and if that doesn't happen pretty soon, we're going to be in big trouble."
Government workers losing their jobs is not easy, he said, "but the folks paying the bills expect us to do it, especially when they have to do it themselves."