From WSJ, A Governor and His Veto Pen
If Republicans are looking to get back their conservative groove, they could do worse than study Minnesota’s budget brawl. Mr. Pawlenty deftly (and amusingly) outmaneuvered his Democratic opposition, not only saving his state from huge tax increases but clearing the way to cut government spending. Call it a refreshing break from the financial-crisis norm.
Throughout this spectacle, Mr. Pawlenty kept voicing three simple principles. “Number one, we must have [because of the constitution] and should have a balanced budget,” he told me. “Number two, the state government needs to live within its means, just like everybody else. Number three, we shouldn’t raise taxes in the worst recession in 60 years.” Minnesota already has one of the highest tax burdens in the nation.
The players were played:
The DFL wasn’t listening. As the clock wound down (the session ended at midnight this past Monday), the legislature sent Mr. Pawlenty one large spending bill after another. The assumption was he’d veto them, be forced to call a special session, and then be negotiated into tax hikes. That’s when the governor got Minnesota nice.
Upon receiving the last spending bill, he announced that he would exercise the power of “unallotment,” which has been on the books since 1939 and which has been used four times. Under it, the governor is allowed to “unallot” (take away) any state spending for which there is no money to pay. Panicked, the DFL passed tax legislation to cover its blowout spending bills, 10 minutes before the session’s end. Too late. The governor said he’d veto the bill and would not be calling back the legislature to do any more mischief.
Mr. Pawlenty is now free to strip $2.7 billion from state spending to balance the budget. Tax hikes are dead. He tells me this will be one of the first times in modern Minnesota history that the state will reduce the size of government in real terms, not just slow its rate of growth. “The correlation in recent history has been between job growth and states that have reasonable government cost structures,” he says. These cuts, he says, will position Minnesota to take advantage of the recovery when it comes.
What a guy.