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Pioneer Editorial: Pawlenty was right to cut political fund

One of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's proposed unallotments is creating a frenzy of activity -- not from human service providers, higher education officials or city and county government officials, but from fellow politicians.

Gov. Pawlenty is calling for the elimination of the Political Contribution Refund. The program allows individuals to contribute up to $50 to a political candidate campaign, and be fully reimbursed by the state of Minnesota. It's $100 for couples.

The Republican governor would end the program starting July 1 through June 30, 2011, and save the state $4.3 million in the upcoming fiscal year and $6.1 million the second year of the biennium for a total savings of $10.4 million. About 90,000 refunds are made annually.

The potential loss of that "free" money to campaigns has politicians -- both Republicans and Democrats -- in a tizzy. They are virtually shouting to potential donors to send in their $50 and $100 checks now, because come Wednesday, that perk is gone.

One political activist -- a fellow Republican nonetheless -- said Thursday he would sue the governor if he doesn't cancel that unallotment.

"Gov. Pawlenty is being challenged, and threatened with lawsuits, by many individuals and organizations, for the unprecedented scope and timing of his attempt to use unallotment provisions of Minnesota law to balance the state's budget for the new biennium, commencing July 1," said Bob Carney Jr. said. "However, aside from all the general and constitutional arguments against what Gov. Pawlenty is attempting to do -- and they are powerful arguments -- we need to recognize the Political Contribution Refund is a tax refund -- something fundamentally different from the other unallocation targets."

Carey argues that, as a tax refund, "what is to prevent a future governor from seizing everyone's property tax refund? Or all tax refunds of all kinds? Or selected tax refund percentages, based on income?"

While bucking even his own party over the Political Contribution Refund, Gov. Pawlenty is right. Allowing a person's state income to be lowered if they contribute to a partisan candidate is wrong, and shouldn't be part of state tax policy. In essence, it is a state budget burden paid by all taxpayers, as the loss has to be made up by Minnesota's state income tax.

Minnesota has a better way to contribute that puts teeth into campaign spending -- the deduct line on state income tax forms that allow a taxpayer to designate $5 to the party of a person's choice. That State Election Campaign Fund public financing pot is doled out to candidates only if they accept the accompanying campaign spending limits. In most cases it works, as candidates can gain public monies if they hold spending to a set level. In more high-profile cases where a candidate won't accept spending limits, his or her opponent is also given open limits.

People who wish to support a specific candidate should spend their own money, not be induced by a tax refund then foisting the cost onto other taxpayers.