House Dems go after Pawlenty staffing arrangement

House Democrats want state agencies to stop picking up part of the tab for some of Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty's employees, a practice that has made the governor's budget look leaner.

Pawlenty now uses his executive authority to spread out the cost of some of his employees. Currently, departments including corrections, agriculture and veterans affairs are helping pay for the head of Pawlenty's faith-based initiative, five policy specialists, a director of legislative and cabinet affairs, two Washington, D.C., employees and a groundskeeper at the governor's residence.

Under spending bills taking shape in the House, roughly $500,000 would reappear as gubernatorial spending.

The House agriculture and veterans finance panel worked Tuesday on a spending bill that would yank back $33,000 of Pawlenty staffing costs from the Veterans Affairs Department and $10,000 from the Agriculture Department. A move to keep things as they stand now failed.

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"Everyone's paying for the governor's staff," said panel chairman Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar.

Rep. Phyllis Kahn, who heads the committee that oversees Pawlenty's office budget, said the changes aren't cuts - just a clearer accounting of what the governor is spending.

"It's more correct to put this all in the governor's staff," said Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis.

Kahn said Pawlenty Chief of Staff Matt Kramer isn't fighting the changes. She said he has testified before her committee and spoken with her directly.

But Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung called the proposal unnecessary and said it would change a practice going back at least two decades.

"It's all executive branch funding either way. Every year we provide the Legislature with information regarding interagency agreements, so it's a transparent process," McClung said.

House fiscal analysts have confirmed the current list of Pawlenty staffers whose salaries are paid in part by other agencies.

Kramer testified before the Senate State Government Budget Division on Monday, saying lawmakers could repeal the statute allowing the governor to use interagency agreements to cover staff costs. Kramer also said Pawlenty plans to reduce his staff from 40 to 38 over the next two years, as part of overall belt-tightening.

So far, the accounting change being pursued in the House hasn't made it into spending bills in the Democrat-led Senate. But State Government Budget Division Chairman Don Betzold, DFL-Fridley, said it might end up there eventually.

During Monday's hearing, Betzold told Kramer, "I think it would be a lot clearer if we just said the governor needs seven more people."

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)