Tim Pawlenty pushed back last night against accusations that his budget decisions as governor had caused the approximately $5 billion deficit that led to a state government shutdown yesterday.
“If this state government would simply live within the revenues it has available, it wouldn’t have any deficit at all,” Pawlenty told reporters in a press conference at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport, according to Minnesota Public Radio.
Last night, Democratic governor Mark Dayton announced Minnesota’s government would shut down, due to an impasse over how to close the state’s budget gap. Democrats want to hike taxes on affluent Minnesotans, which Republicans rejecting.
Pawlenty said that he backed the Republicans. “Both in Washington, D.C., and in St. Paul, the Democrats continue their thirst for more spending and more taxes, and that’s not the right direction for Minnesota and that’s not the right direction for our country,” he remarked.
During Pawlenty’s gubernatorial tenure, the government shut down for nine days in 2005. The stand-off was resolved when Pawlenty agreed to a “health impact fee” that imposed a 75 cent per pack tax on cigarettes.
Pawlenty defended his fiscal record to National Review Online in a May interview, pointing out that he balanced all his budgets as governor with no deficits and that 48 of the 50 states were expected to have budget shortfalls. He argued that Minnesota’s projected deficit was due to anticipated spending increases of 20 to 27 percent.
“I would never have tolerated that,” he said. “Nor should that even be part of the projection in the budget forecast. If they have an increase of a more reasonable nature, there’s no deficit at all.”
But Democrats see the shutdown as an opportunity to criticize Pawlenty’s record.
“Tim Pawlenty is playing politics,” said DNC communications director Brad Woodhouse in an e-mail. “He failed Minnesota as Governor and now he’s trying to cover his tracks. When Tim Pawlenty left office Minnesotans were saddled with a $6.2 billion projected deficit, higher property taxes and higher tuition. Tim Pawlenty’s disastrous record in Minnesota is wrong for America and if he wants to hold a press conference criticizing someone he should start with himself.”