Pawlenty says he'll avoid cutting K-12 education in budget cuts

Gov. Pawlenty in the studio
Gov. Tim Pawlenty in the MPR studio shortly before a live broadcast of Midday on Feb. 3, 2009.
MPR Photo/Tom Weber

On the eve of the 2010 legislative session, Gov. Pawlenty said he's going to work to protect schools from spending cuts.

Pawlenty appeared on MPR's Midday program Wednesday to discuss the upcoming session and his budget priorities. He also discussed something else that will dominate the session -- politics.

The legislative session is always politically charged, but this year it's a safe bet that everything will be supercharged.

That's because Tim Pawlenty is finishing his tenure as governor and isn't ruling out a run for president. DFL House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher and seven other current lawmakers are running for governor.

On MPR's Midday program, Pawlenty repeated his pledge that he won't increase taxes to erase the state $1.2 billion budget deficit. He said his plan will be done with spending cuts alone.

"We need to do things to make Minnesota a more job-friendly state," said Pawlenty. "Our taxes are too high, and our spending is just ridiculous."

Pawlenty declined to specify which cuts are on the table. He said, however, that he'll work to protect K-12 schools and veterans and military affairs programs when he releases his budget plan next week.

Pawlenty also said it could be difficult to reach a budget deal with Democrats because Kelliher will be front and center in budget negotiations.

"You have the Speaker of the House, for example, who's running for governor. And she's not going to go to the endorsing convention to the DFL Party in late April and say, 'I just cut a deal with the governor, and we're cutting education or we're cutting taxes,'" said Pawlenty. "She just can't do that and survive the DFL process."

At the same time the governor was discussing the session on the radio, Kelliher was at the Capitol criticizing Pawlenty's budget priorities in a legislative hearing.

Kelliher used one of Pawlenty's own signature lines against him, when she ripped his plan to delay payments to schools to help the state meet its cash flow needs.

"It's not quite accurate to say we're not in a borrowing mode. We're out there taking money that other elected officials have put away and saved for their rainy day," said Kelliher. "We just have to be real honest about what's going on here. There's a form of a Ponzi scheme happening in the state."

DFL Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller gaveled Kelliher out of order, saying "let's not go there."

Before the meeting, Pogemiller said he isn't concerned about the politics of the session as long as Pawlenty, the candidates for governor and every lawmaker up for re-election focus on their current jobs. But the emphasis was on Pawlenty.

"People can multitask. The governor can multitask. He's running for president, but he can also apparently do his job as governor," said Pogemiller. "My hope is that he'll focus his attention on doing his current job. He's got it for one year, and his leadership here could absolutely affect the long-term prospects for economic stability."

Behind the politics are a lot of serious issues that need to be addressed this session. Lawmakers are working to restore funding to a health insurance program for poor Minnesotans. They also want to preserve state funding for local services, and colleges and universities to prevent tuition increases.

And then there's the economy. Pawlenty and state lawmakers are all working on various job creation plans to help jump-start hiring. Democrats say a targeted tax cut for investors, along with a large public works bill, would help.

Pawlenty doesn't disagree, but says cutting corporate income taxes would help attract and retain businesses in Minnesota.

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