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Minnesota Makes (More?) News -- What Can We Learn?

"Fiscal conservative" and "fiscally responsible" are two entirely different and, in recent history, contradictory concepts. Look to Governor Tim Pawlenty to see this contradiction in action.
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Say what you will about the North Star State -- nice people, weird food, cold weather -- but Minnesota has certainly found a way to keep itself in the national spotlight in 2007.

Of course, that's not necessarily a good thing.

A big Senate race in the 2008 cycle. Two important congressional races. The 2008 Republican National Convention. A Governor who's been mentioned as a VP possibility for at least one Republican presidential candidate. A disastrous bridge collapse. Major flooding affecting a large part of the state. Eerie parallels between state and national political dynamics.

It's those last four that deserve a bit more attention. You see, Governor Pawlenty recently called a special session of the Legislature to deal with flood relief -- but only after specifically demanded that the session have nothing to do with repairs, reconstruction, funding, or analysis of the I-35W bridge collapse. Some of us were a little miffed. DFL (Democratic, for non-Minnesotans) leaders finally capitulated, unwilling to let Pawlenty's intransigence get in the way of providing relief to people in southeast Minnesota whose livelihoods and homes were affected by this summer's floods. They rammed a relief bill through in a single day, Pawlenty signed it, and things were on the right track.

Sort of. Keep in mind those parallels between state and national politics mentioned above.

Apparently, the Pawlenty Administration has a...shall we say, unique?...interpretation of the flood relief funding bill signed by their boss (cough signing statements cough). Via Bluestem Prairie,

. . .The apparent contradiction between DFL-lawmakers' promises and the restrictions or limitations announced by Dan McElroy, the head of DEED - a key appointment by a Republican Governor with a well-deserved reputation for fiscal conservatism - came as a poignant partisan snub to the Rushford business community. Its members have independently estimated direct business damages, that is lost buildings, inventories, equipment and clean-up costs, at $27.6-million. In Rushford alone, 58-businesses suffered significant flood damage. In addition, 272-fulltime and 191-parttime employees were idled by the disaster, and many remain out-of-work. . .

You see, political solidarity with people like Grover Norquist of "shrink government till I can drown it in a bathtub" infamy is more important to Pawlenty than making clear, swift moves to repair the lives of his constituents. Instead of asking the most affluent Minnesotans to sustain an incremental tax increase in order to fill a budget gap, in his last term he tried to cut thousands of low-wage workers from their state-provided health coverage, and offered a "health maintenance fee" on cigarette sales to further close the gap. It wasn't a tax, though. It was a fee. Can't raise taxes. Nope. Nagunna do it. Wud'nbeprudint.

And more recently, we've seen this insanity when it comes to infrastructure issues and flood relief. Minnesota's state gas tax has not been raised to keep up with inflation, and now lags behind several other states that can afford to fix bridges and roads before they fall into total disrepair. Yet this was the primary motivation for Pawlenty to "hold the line" on special session topics -- if the session were allowed to touch on transportation issues, those evil Democrats might try to force him to sign a bill increasing that gas tax, pushing more money into the state Department of Transportation. Can't have that. This latest snub to owners of businesses and homes damaged by floods is the latest in a string of shell-game tomfoolery from the Governor's office.

Note to Democratic candidates across the country -- "moderate" is fine. "Moderate" should mean that you're willing to work across party lines and find common ground when possible. But don't fall into the "social liberal, fiscal conservative" box. "Fiscal conservative" and "Fiscally responsible" are two entirely different and, in recent history, contradictory concepts.

One need look no further than the administration of Governor Tim Pawlenty to see this contradiction in action.

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