Pawlenty touts his accomplishments
Governor speaks to crowd of 50 at Rochester airport
By Lenora Chu
Gov. Tim Pawlenty stopped at the Rochester International Airport on Tuesday to highlight 2003 legislative accomplishments and promote what he called "Real Reform for A Better Minnesota."
This year, the Legislature struggled to fix a $4.23 billion deficit and passed most of Pawlenty's proposed budget solution, which includes funding cuts in nearly all state spending priorities, including health and human services, local government aid and higher education.
Before a crowd of 50 people made up of supporters and protesters, Pawlenty focused not on the cuts but rather on a series of new laws and reforms, including bills that require schoolchildren to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, tighten work requirements on welfare applicants and create a tax-free zone to encourage biotechnology investment in the state.
He also reiterated that his no-tax-increase campaign pledge, which he succeeded in carrying through this year despite Minnesota's budget woes, is the right way to go.
"I sometimes get portrayed as an alien creature for proposing no new taxes," Pawlenty, a Republican, said. "But two-thirds of other states have proposed no tax increases …; including Wisconsin and Michigan," which have Democratic governors.
Fee increases on everything from parking tickets and court filings to camping permits, which Pawlenty proposed and the Legislature passed, don't count as taxes because they are levied on users of the services, the governor said.
Pawlenty's Rochester visit is part of a multicity tour Republican and DFL leaders started this week to try to win Minnesotans over to their side. Pawlenty characterized the DFL message as negative and one that won't reach people.
"My friends in the DFL will come to town and basically say life stinks -- vote for us," Pawlenty said. "We've had our differences …; we need to focus on the positive."
But not everyone in attendance Tuesday bought into Pawlenty's "positive" message, and half a dozen people carried signs protesting the budget cuts.
Kirsten Betsworth, a Rochester resident, called Pawlenty's attention to the cuts he proposed to local colleges, workforce development programs and other services that helped her get on her feet in troubled times.
"You just pulled the rug out from underneath us," Betsworth told the governor, adding that her child-care costs will roughly quadruple, from $53 a month to $50 a week because of budget cuts to child-care assistance.
Mark Frederickson, an environmental activist, pointed to Pawlenty's signature on a bill that allows the Prairie Island nuclear plant to stay open longer on the condition that owner Xcel Energy invests more in renewable energy.
"But there's loopholes in the bill, and you can't hold a corporation's feet to the fire with that," Frederickson said. "(Pawlenty) is putting a positive spin on an energy policy that's a step backward for our state."
Next week, Pawlenty will visit with bond agencies in New York to "try to keep our triple-A bond rating."
He said he'll take a little downtime this summer but is already hard at work on initiatives he will promote during next year's session, including education reform, economic development and environmental initiatives.
"We got most of our to-do list done this session. We gotta create a whole new list," Pawlenty said.