In “Winners, losers and collaborators,” I criticized the “heatlh impact fee” on tobacco that Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty successfully advocated to resolve Minnesota’s budget impasse earlier this month. At the bottom of the post John Hinderaker took issue with my criticism and came to the defense of Governor Pawlenty. John let me have the last word in the argument that day.
In today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune, John teams up with former Minnesota Republican Party chairman Ron Eibensteiner to respond to the criticism of Governor Pawlenty and the budget deal leveled by Mike Wigley and David Strom of the Taxpayers League in “A promise is a promise except if you are governor.” John and Ron elaborate on the case for Governor Pawlenty and the virtues of the budget deal in “The best governor in memory.”
The Star Tribune restricts access to the content on its site after 14 days. I am accordingly taking the liberty of pasting in John and Ron’s column below:
Mike Wigley and David Strom of the Taxpayers League wrote in last Sunday’s Op Ex section about the “bubble of unreality that is the governor’s office.” On the contrary, they need to be reminded of reality. We believe that the narrow view they expressed is not good for conservatives, the Republican Party, or Minnesota.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty is the best thing that has happened to Minnesota and our party in a long time. He is as smart as anyone in politics, and is a likable guy who has connected with Minnesota’s voters. In challenging times, he is doing a superb job.
We were there when Pawlenty stepped to the podium on election night. While he thanked all of his supporters and those who voted for him, he declared that he was going to be the governor of all the people of Minnesota. And he has done what he promised, moving the state forward with pro-growth policies. Minnesota’s economy is advancing strongly and steadily, with excellent job growth and just 3.7 percent unemployment.
With government intervention kept to a minimum, our basic industries of agriculture, mining, timber and manufacturing are making good progress. Pawlenty has laid a foundation for Minnesota’s future economy by bringing Mayo and the University of Minnesota together in a historic Bioscience Initiative. Entrepreneurs and small businesses are gaining ground against national and global competition.
In public policy, it can be tempting to focus too much on tools and not enough on goals. Wigley and Strom seem fixated on a tool — the Taxpayers League’s Pledge — to the point that they’re missing the results Pawlenty’s administration has achieved.
The governor is focused on pursuing a growth agenda for all Minnesotans, not on satisfying an interest group, however much we may sympathize with that group and agree with it the vast majority of the time.
He faces a fundamental problem that Wigley and Strom fail to acknowledge: Two political parties are active in this state. The Democrats hold about half the seats in the Legislature, and control the Senate.
Pawlenty was elected governor, not emperor. He has to deal with the Democrats. No budget can become law without passing the Democrat-controlled Senate, and Democrats were determined to raise taxes by $1.4 billion. Tim didn’t give in to their budget-busting demands; he went toe to toe with them, to the point where Democrats walked out and shut down state government. If Pawlenty hadn’t agreed to some kind of compromise, the government would be shut down still.
Wigley and Strom seem to think that the governor gave away the store in order to get Minnesota’s government back to work. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Pawlenty has been spectacularly successful in containing state spending. In his first year in office, he closed a $4.5 billion deficit — without raising taxes by a nickel. Beween 1994 and 2002, spending in Minnesota ballooned out of control, rising an average of 13.4 percent per biennium. Under Pawlenty’s leadership, the rate of growth has been cut nearly in half, to 7.3 percent per biennium, bringing it in line with population growth and inflation.
What about the tax increase on cigarettes that prompted Wigley and Strom’s attack? It constitutes a mere 1.3 percent of the state’s budget. Perfection is great, but it is hard to achieve when the tax-and-spend party controls one house of the Legislature. Pawlenty faced down the Democrats and made a great deal for the citizens of Minnesota, which will help to assure continued economic growth during the remainder of his term.
We have fought in the trenches for a long time for conservative values and Republican candidates. So has the Taxpayers League, which performed a great service for Minnesotans. But it is no service to divide the Republican Party, in search of an unattainable purity, at a time when Minnesota has the best governor within memory, Tim Pawlenty.