House Speaker: Pawlenty Amendment More Politics Than Policy


Speaker of the House, Margaret Anderson Kelliher spoke with The UpTake’s Mike McIntee about Govenor Pawlenty’s proposed amendment to the Minnesota constitution that would limit spending in any biennium to the amount of revenue that came in the previous two years.

Speaker of the House, Margaret Anderson Kelliher:
I think it’s a very curious timed announcement. I know the Governor is traveling this weekend down to, I believe, Iowa and I think it’s another case where the Governor is putting politics ahead of the good policies that Minnesotans need. You know the strange thing about the Governor’s proposal is exactly what Senator Pogemiller said, we’re not clear that the Governor has ever proposed this himself in the budgets that he’s put forward to the legislature. He’s always overspent what is going to come in the door, even in the projections that we have.

And think the other thing is that folks would probably be interested in knowing is that when Michelle Bachmann was a state senator she had a proposal like this. I think it wasn’t modeled after the colorado law like this or the Colorado constitutional amendment like this. And she wouldn’t even come to the Senate tax committee to present the bill. So, I think it’s kind of interesting that the Governor is now jumping on this bandwagon.

What folks should understand is that this is even more restrictive than any of the other constitutional amendments around the country that have been proposed like this because this binds you to the revenues in the previous two years. So it’s almost like saying that even if the economy is improving, we would have to ignore the improvement in our economy and increased revenues. We couldn’t put those to schools or health care or anywhere else. We’d have to live under the old scenario. I just think it makes no sense at all. I don’t know if it evens things out at all as the Governor says.

Mike McIntee:
The Governor was trying to make it sound today like well, if we had a “windfall” as he put it, more dollars coming in the door, well, heck we’d be able to decide to spend them. Is that going to be the case by your reading of this constitutional amendment?

MAK:
Oh, I don’t think so. According to the Minnesota Budget Project, which has taken a quick look at this, their analysis of this is that even if that money is coming in the biennium, the biennium we’re budgeting for, we have to live by the previous biennium. So here’s the example that Minnesotans should understand. So if the revenue collected by the state in the 2010 and 11 biennium, because we budget on two year cycles, is about $31 Billion, $34 Billion. And if say the revenue in this next, it drops by three or four billion, you have to ignore that three or four billion. You cannot put that into your schools and you actually add to the deficit situation going forward. I just think it doesn’t make sense. I don’t think it’s well thought out.

And I also believe that Minnesotans recently, last year, just a year ago yesterday, actually decided to make investments in things they value through the legacy amendment. So this is sort of flying counter-productive to where Minnesotans are at in terms of the sorts of things that they value in their state.

MM:
What struck me about the Governor’s announcement, that it might be just political as opposed to actually trying to solve a problem, is one of the reporters asked him ‘Well Governor, how does this effect the shifts that have been made.’ And the Governor said ‘I’ll have to get back to you on that.’ But that’s one of his favorite tools. Why wouldn’t he have an answer to a very basic question like that?

MAK:
I think that gets to … I believe this is more about politics than good policy for Minnesotans. And its more about political ambition for the Governor than actually doing the right thing by the school kids of our state. And so you look at that and it’s pretty clear that the Governor, one of the Governor’s favorite tools of shifting actually would violate this very constitutional amendment.

MM:
Well, let’s talk a moment about school kids, because there’s nothing in this amendment that says schools. How do we get from what he has in this amendment to schools?

MAK:
Well, because we’re talking about the amount of revenues collected and the ability for legislators and a Governor to make decisions, priority decisions about where the money goes. I’ll give you examples of what has happened in Colorado under the similar type of constitutional amendment. In Colorado, the spending on their K-12 schools has gone from 35th to 49th in the nation. That’s a pretty big drop since 1992. The average per pupil spending fell by $400 because this thing handcuffs you in a way that you cannot make those choices and in fact what happens is that certain areas of the budget. Say corrections, and this has happened in Colorado where if you have courts that are sentencing criminals, there is more precedent for them to be sentencing the criminals, than school kids to get what they need in classroom because it is such a constrain to budget.

MM:
The other thing that strikes me political about this is the Governor had an opportunity to sit down and discuss ideas with you and other Minnesota leaders at the Leadership summit, and he said “no no no, we don’t discuss those things now.” Yet suddenly it’s time to discuss these things and we’re not in session. I don’t get the equivocation here. Have you been able to figure this out?

MAK:
Well, two things about that Mike that I think are interesting. This idea never came up. And remember we were in a multi-partisan group, both independence party members , republicans and democrats with the former Governors , Speakers and Majority Leaders and Finance Commissioners of the state in early September and not a person raised this idea of a constitutional amendment as the answer to our budgeting woes in this state. They all raised the question of using good judgment and balanced position in Minnesota for a brighter future. The other thing of course is we had breakfast with the Governor just two week ago. And this was again never, never brought up or discussed.

MM:
Let’s for the moment say there is no politics involved . And I know that’s a fairy tail, but let’s just for the moment say that. Senator Tom Bakk in the tax committee said “hey Governor, come on down. We’re willing to talk about this. I hope you show up like Michele Bachmann didn’t, and we can discuss what this really is. Are you willing to give this a hearing in the legislative session?

MAK:
I think that it’s probably one of those things that depending on who is carrying the bill, it looks like Representative Paul Kohls might carry the bill, and where the bill would start. Certainly the chair of the committee where it begins might decide to give a hearing if it is in chair Lenczewski committee she may say let’s talk about these issues. I think one of the big issues that chair Lenczewski and others might ask the Governor or the representative of the Governor is how does this at all get away from the pattern of this Governor has been, which is to push the tax burden onto the property tax payer. And that has been also another favorite tool of the Governor of the state of Minnesota, Governor Pawlenty, and that is the massive rise in the amount of property taxes that people are paying across the state. And I think it’s pretty clear that this would do nothing to relieve people of the property tax burden and I’m sure that Representative Lenczewski, Chair Lenczewski would love to ask the Governor that question.

MM:
Bottom line. Do you think this bill has a chance of getting through the legislature which the DFL has control of in the House and the Senate?

MAK:
Always difficult to predict something, but I would say this is not one that is going to find a lot of favor right now in the Minnesota House. And I think actually opposition could even be bipartisan. In the past when we’ve seen ideas like this, very few Republicans even vote these types of ideas. But we certainly are willing to entertain the idea. This is once again the other interesting fact about this is the Governor doesn’t need to sign or veto a constitutional amendment. It has to go through the legislative process. And then if the legislature passes it, it goes right out to the ballot. So that is another feature of constitutional amendments that I find interesting.

MM:
And 17 of those last 18 constitutional amendments have passed. So the legislature is a very important gate on this.

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