Governor on the stump to stop DFL supermajority
Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto remains the only thing standing in the way of "a runaway train of bad ideas," the Republican governor said Monday.
In stumping for Republican House candidates John Carlson in 4A and Doug Lindgren in 2B in Bemidji, Pawlenty said both need to be elected Nov. 4 to prevent Democrats from a supermajority in the House.
"If we do not get these two candidates elected, the odds that the Democrats will run the entire state as a runaway train are going to go dramatically up," Pawlenty said to a conference room full of people at Bemidji Regional Airport.
He also renewed his "no new taxes" stance and said the state "must live within its means" as it faces a budget shortfall for the next biennium budget.
He also took heat from a local businessman who said it was time to quit the pledge and instead invest in Minnesota.
"The one thing standing between that runaway train of bad ideas, which is the Democrat majority in this state, from being completely enacted -- 100 percent enacted -- is my veto," Pawlenty said.
The House DFL is five votes short a veto-proof majority, while the Minnesota Senate already has one and its members aren't up for election this year. Reaching that supermajority is a major House DFL goal this fall.
Pawlenty called it "mission critical" that Carlson and Lindgren are elected to preserve his veto. Carlson faces Democrat John Persell and Independence Party candidate Sharatin Blake in an open race, and Lindgren hopes to oust Rep. Brita Sailer, DFL-Park Rapids, to whom he's lost twice before.
"The Democrats will have complete control of the entire state government, and all of their bad ideas that I've been able to stop these last six years will now get enacted into law," he said. "That is not good for the state of Minnesota, and it would reflect an imbalance for our great state."
Minnesotans want balance, Pawlenty said, straying neither to the extreme left or the extreme right. He accused the Legislature of being run by liberal Minneapolis lawmakers -- both the House speaker and Senate majority leader represent Minneapolis -- who do not pay attention to rural issues.
"They have a Minneapolis-centric view of the world that is not the same as most people in the rest of the state," said the GOP governor, who flirted this summer with national attention as a possible vice presidential running mate for GOP presidential nominee John McCain.
"If you take the 100 percent Democrat liberal agenda for the state and have no way to balance it, no way to stop it, no way to require some compromise, that would be very bad for the state," Pawlenty said.
"Whether it's taxes, whether it's education accountability, whether it's trying to empower consumers rather than government in health care reform, and the like, the answer isn't to have the state have a runaway liberal train of bad ideas that is unstoppable," he said.
Putting the DFL in full control would see taxes raised and businesses leave, he said, saying one company threatened do so in a campaign earlier Monday.
"One of the most prominent employers for a particular city in this state stood up and said if the Democrats get to do it, if you're not there with the veto, we're having our future business expansions outside of Minnesota -- we just can't afford it," Pawlenty said.
House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, who accompanied Pawlenty, said they were in Thief River Falls and heard the comment from the head of Digi-Key Corp.
"What they're (DFL) doing, among other things, is take billions ... in tax increases and dump it on the heads of Minnesota taxpayers. That is the last thing Minnesota taxpayers need when we have these kinds of economic conditions.
"Minnesotans are struggling to pay their heating bills, they're struggling to be able to afford to put gas in the car, they're struggling to be able to afford their mortgages -- and Minnesota is already a highly taxed state," he added. "The last thing hard-working Minnesotans need is what our Democrat liberal friends on the other side of the aisle coming in and dumping another bucket load of tax increases on their heads."
Many of the tax increases would already be in effect, he said, if he were not able to stop them the past six years. Pawlenty, before he took office for his first term, signed the Taxpayers League of Minnesota's "no new taxes" pledge, which he said he would not sign for his second term but is abiding by it.
"When I veto something, that veto needs to stick as a way to be able to get their attention and require them to compromise and to come back to the center of political and policy thought in Minnesota," he said.
The only way to do that is to have a seat at the table by electing Carlson and Lindgren, he said.
With the state facing a possible $2 billion budget shortfall next year, Pawlenty said the way to balance the budget is not to raise taxes.
"One premise we have to make sure we maintain in state government, particularly in the wake of this economic crisis, is that we have to live responsibly and live within our means," he said. "Minnesota is taxed enough, we are not an under-taxed state."
If he isn't able to exercise his veto, Pawlenty said that "even though the private economy has hardly grown at all, the Democrats will jack up spending two, three, four, five times faster than the economy's growing -- and they will send you the bill in the form of a massive tax increase."
House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, disputes that, saying the DFL doesn't plan tax increases next session, just tax fairness.
"Minnesotans do want taxes to be paid fairly," Kelliher said in an interview last week. "The governor may even be open to the fair tax argument in terms of how it's structured, because it's critical for the system to operate well, that people are assured there is fairness in the system."
The DFL may propose that fairness by raising the tax rate the most wealthy Minnesotans pay, about 8 percent, to that which most middle-income Minnesotans pay, about 12 percent. Fairness comes when "those who are able to pay, pay," she said, adding the new rate would apply to those making more than $400,000.
Pawlenty dismissed the idea, saying that Kelliher made the same pledge in 2006 but after her election as speaker, proposed billions in new taxes.
"When the speaker comes around and says we're not going to raise taxes, watch your wallet," the Republican governor said.
Seiftert said he likes to call the speaker "Lucy" Kelliher after the Charlie Brown cartoon character that always pulls out the football before Charlie Brown can kick it.
"As the voters come running one more time for her to pull the football back and say no tax increases, they go running and hit their back," Seifert said. "I don't believe for one minute they're not interested in it, and they're going to do it."
It's not about rich or poor, instead you have less of what you tax and more of what you subsidize, he said. "If you tax job providers, you're going to have fewer jobs."
Cost structure is a big item for companies researching where to locate, Pawlenty said, adding that Minnesota has one of the highest business income tax rates of 9.8 percent, one of the highest marginal top bracket on income taxes of 7.85 percent, has no preferential rate for capital gains.
The DFL, however, proposed last year a new statewide tax on small businesses. "Most of the jobs aren't coming from big companies -- they're coming from small entrepreneurs, small businesses that are the backbone of the economy."
But at least one businessman -- Mark Thorson of Mark's Sand & Gravel of Fergus Falls and Bemidji, said it is time to raise taxes an invest in Minnesota's infrastructure.
"I disagree with the platform -- to me, it's 10 years old, the hold the line on taxes and cut spending," Thorson said of the "no new taxes" pledge. He said he's had to lay off 140 workers the past 18 months because of the lack of funding for roads.
"Those folks would gladly pay some tax -- $3,000, $4,000, $5,000 tax if they could have that level of income back," he said, with some workers taking up to a $15,000 pay cut. "I would gladly pay another 5, 10, 15 percent if we got our level of workload back."
Pawlenty noted that -- over his veto -- the Legislature approved $6 billion in new transportation funding and will raise the gasoline tax a total of 8.5 cents a gallon.
Because of less demand, Thorson said it wasn't enough, that the tax should have been raised 18 cents a gallon.
"You cannot make a credible case that Minnesota's under taxed,' Pawlenty said. "We are among the highest taxed states in the nation. ... How much is enough?"
The economy is in tougher shape than most politicians realize, Thorson said, "and it's going to an enormous, historically unprecedented infusion of revenue, and it's got to start at the federal level for highways and bridges."
But Pawlenty said the federal government "is broke -- they have no money. Every dollar they spend is coming from the Chinese or somebody else. ... Every dollar they spend it debt."
And the nation should not go further into debt, he said.
Thorson urged the Republicans to rethink their "no new tax" stance. "What the party needs is a good, hard look in the mirror, get self critical, get self-analytical, and really reconstruct yourselves on a few of these issues."