In 1980, Republican Gov. Al Quie was the first governor to make unilateral budget cuts through unallotment. Quie was governor during the tough economic period of 1979-1983. Quie believes some sort of tax increase may be needed to balance the budget.
MPR's Cathy Wurzer spoke with Quie on Wednesday about the budget problems he dealt with in the '80s and about his take on the current negotiations. Below is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Cathy Wurzer: What do you make of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's refusal to raise any taxes to solve the budget deficit?
Al Quie: A person lays down the line of where they make a stand, and that's who they are, and you have to deal with that. You have to deal with reality. And the governor is always in the driver's seat because he could veto the measure, so you have to deal with that. ... I've been very clear about the need to use some tax increase to go along with this, but that isn't Pawlenty; I'm not the governor. And so no matter how the DFL leadership fusses about it, that's what they have to face up to.
Wurzer: What needs to happen?
Quie: This session isn't over yet, and there's another session coming up with new people in 2011. The permanent solutions will have to come up pretty soon after that. But I think the Republicans and the Democrats need to work together. On the Republican side they have two reasonable people with House Minority Leader Kurt Zellers and Senate Minority Leader Dave Senjem, and so I don't see why they can't do something to get us past this. Otherwise they're going to face, I think, another unallotment. But if I was the governor I wouldn't unallot again. I would call a special session if they can't get it done and put them back to work again.
Wurzer: You used unallotment to cut about $200 million from the state budget in 1980. People didn't like that did they?
Quie: Even republicans ran against me on my cuts, but that's politics.
Wurzer: You also decided to drop your opposition to tax increases. Why did you do that?
Quie: I just came to the conclusion that you couldn't do it with just the reduction of expenditures. Our revenue estimates were always faulty, and less revenue came in than we expected. So my reason was I looked at some things that were necessary, but I said to people, I would stick by my personal budget, but if my daughter were ill and I had to go way into debt to save her life, I would save her life. I just wanted to put things drastic like that so people could understand. I don't know if it's at that point now because I'm not in with government, but those are the things people have to consider.
Wurzer: How did you get lawmakers ultimately to compromise? I know you called a lot of special sessions.
Quie: I had private meetings, which are going on now. Then with the leaders, when I reached agreement, then I had them lay their hands on each other to back and sell it to their caucus rather than to go back and find out if their caucus would go along. So with that kind of commitment we seem to have gotten things done.
Wurzer: Why is it so tough to get folks together in a room and talk rationally about a budget agreement?
Quie: There seems to be a different atmosphere in politics. But a part of it is the trust and relationship that Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe and I developed.