Gov. Tim Pawlenty took a decisive move Thursday in essentially throwing down the glove -- Deal or no deal, the 2009 legislative session is over come midnight Monday. No special session. No government shutdown on July 1.
It was a bold move to prod action, but is a scenario that must not happen.
Gov. Pawlenty has stubbornly stuck by his pledge not to raise state taxes. It is an admirable position, since none of us want to see our taxes raised. But there comes a time when essential government services must be provided, at whatever cost it takes. Otherwise, public safety is endangered, our most vulnerable citizens' lives are endangered, we fail our youth by cheapening their education or unequally providing it, we allow our investment in public infrastructure to go to waste and perhaps endangering its users, or a combination of all.
The only new revenue proposed by the governor is by bonding for $1 billion, to be repaid by the annual tobacco settlement the state receives. While not raising taxes, it's bad fiscal policy to bond for ongoing government operations, especially when the bond will cost another $600 million in interest payments.
Gov. Pawlenty on Thursday said that with a lack of an agreement by adjournment Monday night, he will take matters in his own hands by using his line-item in the budget bills before him now, and he'll use his authority to unallot program funding with the July 1 start of the new biennium. Unallotment is a tool used only four times in the last 30 years -- the last time in December by Pawlenty. With a potential $3 billion budget gap facing Minnesota, the governor could unallot 10 times more than any previous governor.
If that route is taken, Gov. Pawlenty said the new budget would approach the numbers he proposed in January. At that point, we fear many cuts will be beyond that which Minnesotans -- prudent by nature -- are willing to accept but would be too late to redirect.
Locally, the cuts will seriously jeopardize operations of the hospital and nursing homes, will cause the school district to borrow millions to make up for shifted state aid, see city and county governments cope with less aid than anticipated and an accompanying reduction in local services such as police, fire, library, street maintenance -- and higher property taxes, the most regressive tax.
The governor once accepted new revenue in the form of a "health impact fee" on cigarettes. Perhaps he'll accept an income tax "surcharge" instead of a tax hike. With only days remaining, we hope that an option other than what he proposed Thursday is found.
Otherwise, Minnesota could quickly become another Mississippi.