Rejecting a tax increase that DFL leaders rammed through in the closing minutes of the legislative session, Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Thursday said that local officials who claim they can't absorb further cuts in state aid are talking "hogwash.''
"They need to get their head into the reality of these times, which is [that] we got a recession which is the worst in 60 years, and instead of whining and complaining they need to figure out how they can reduce their spending by a few percent," Pawlenty said before vetoing the tax bill.
The governor laid out his recipe for the belt-tightening: Use your rainy day fund, if you have one. Freeze public employee salaries for two years, streamline operations for greater efficiency and prioritize your spending.
Wagging a fiscal finger at Minneapolis, Pawlenty asked: "Were those expensive artistic water fountains really necessary? Did they need to have their own civil rights department that overlaps substantially with the Minnesota Human Rights Department?"
But others seemed doubtful that much budgetary blubber remained.
"It's a little bit disingenuous when you say, you guys tighten your belts, when [the state] couldn't tighten its belt without these gimmicks," said former state Rep. Dan Dorman, a Republican, referring to the bonds and accounting shifts Pawlenty proposed as deficit solvents.
Dorman and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, a DFLer, spoke Thursday in Mankato, Albert Lea and Rochester to raise awareness about the tough choices cities are facing. For instance, Albert Lea may have to cut six police officers if it chooses not to raise property taxes, Dorman said.
The Pawlenty administration has talked about a potential half-billion-dollar cut in local aid.
Pawlenty received the tax bill at noon Thursday and lost no time in vetoing it. The bill, passed by both legislative houses just before midnight Monday after only minutes of debate, would have raised nearly $1 billion from tax increases on the wealthy, liquor and credit card companies.
"As I have made clear on repeated occasions, imposing $1.018 billion in new taxes on Minnesota families and job providers is unacceptable during this difficult economic time," Pawlenty said in an uncommonly brief veto message.
The governor plans to use line-item vetoes and his unallotment power, the special authority he has under the state constitution to cut money already appropriated in order to balance the budget. He met with state agency heads Thursday to review the process.
He sent a letter to legislators asking for their ideas on general fund programs that can be cut. He asked that their input be forwarded to his chief of staff by next Friday.
And Pawlenty also announced that his office has created an e-mail account, email@example.com, to solicit ideas from state government employees and Minnesota citizens.
"This is not the path we would have chosen, but it's the path we're on," he said.
Vetoes of housing, prison bills
On Wednesday, the governor vetoed bills to give home-owners more time to invoke their construction warranties, and to ensure that felons who have done their time know they can vote.
Pawlenty said that increasing the time frame to report a construction problem could increase the cost of fixing it. The other bill, he said, added mandates at a time when the state is trying to reduce them.
The governor has several bills left to sign or veto, which he said he hoped to get through today. One is a bill allocating $234 million for the outdoors, clean water, parks and the arts under the terms of the Legacy amendment, the state sales tax voters passed last year.
"It's an important bill and I want to spend a good deal of time on it," Pawlenty said.
Kevin Duchschere • 651-292-0164