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Pioneer Editorial: Refusal to join summit questioned

Gov. Tim Pawlenty's refusal to participate -- or have members of his administration participate -- in a summit to find long-range solutions to Minnesota's continuing budget problems affirms his status as a lame-duck governor waiting to heave the state's budget woes on the next governor.

Senate Majority Larry Pogemiller and House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, both Democrats from Minneapolis, have called for a Minnesota Leadership Summit this fall. It includes former Minnesota governors, legislative leaders past and present and economic experts.

The idea of the summit, Pogemiller says, comes from former Republican Gov. Arne Carlson, who wrote a column challenging policy makers to find long-term fiscal stability.

Instead, Gov. Pawlenty retorted that "the state already has an annual 'Minnesota Leadership Summit.' It's called the legislative session and it lasts approximately five months. ... the Legislature's DFL leadership wasted the first few months of the session."

He also said that "DFL legislators have done a thorough job of admiring our state's budget difficulties, but have refused or been unable to take action to address them." The summit, Gov. Pawlenty said, would only "rehash already established concerns," and time would be better spent "coming up with reasonable solutions, negotiating with my administration ..."

The only other ex-governor who refuses to attend is Jesse Ventura, who lost interest in state government the day he left office.

What must be understood is that the Legislature, especially the bill prepared by the DFL-led Senate, did solve the state's budget problem now and in the future, but it wasn't the solution the governor wanted. Steadfastly refusing to raise any state taxes, the governor vetoed a bill that would have raised $1 billion in new tax revenues as part of a mix that included shifts and cuts in spending.

The state now faces would could be a $7 billion budget deficit in the next biennium -- a serious enough issue that should be tackled now. But Gov. Pawlenty, maintaining his "no new taxes" pledge, obviously has nothing to gain in a summit.

Gov. Pawlenty seems inclined to keep his pledge intact, and allow the next governor to face the music. But in the meantime, Minnesotans will continue to stare at a huge pending fiscal shortfall that apparently won't begin to be solved until 2011, and after seeing the effect of more state services and aids cut under the governor's unallotment of state spending to balance the current biennium budget.