Pawlenty ‘willing to listen’ to special session requests
ST. PAUL — Gov. Tim Pawlenty refused Friday to slam the door on a special session to pass a reconfigured tax bill, but he expressed doubt about the Legislature’s ability to pull off a quick in-and-out session.
The Republican governor left many Capitol players craving a special session by vetoing a bill this week that would have boosted local government allowances, provided immediate help for fire victims in northern Minnesota, fine-tuned the corporate tax code and subsidized two large business expansions.
He stressed that he is "not inclined" to bring legislators back.
"We’d at least be willing to listen to the legislative leaders if that’s what they want to do, but it’s not necessary," Pawlenty said. "I’m skeptical about it because they seem unable to restrain themselves in terms of scope and their ability to agree."
He said he would demand a prior agreement on the agenda and want assurances that the session last only a day. Governors have sole power to call lawmakers into a special session, but the Legislature isn’t bound by any time limit once they return to work.
The next regular session begins Feb. 12.
Pawlenty brought down the tax bill over a provision that would have made inflation estimates a requirement in official budget forecasts. He said he warned legislative leaders the entire bill would be in jeopardy if they stuck the measure in the bill.
Prior to a 2002 law change, finance officials considered the year-to-year ri 1/2e in program costs when determining whether the state had a deficit or surplus. Forecasters now build inflation into revenue projections, but ignore it on the spending side.
Pawlenty argued that baking across-the-board inflation into the forecast leaves the impression that every program should get more funding. Democrats argue the governor’s argument is flawed because lawmakers are required to sign off on increases in spending.
Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, continued to hammer away at that point Friday, challenging Pawlenty to a one-on-one debate over the topic.
"The governor is using weapons of math destruction. He’s using his own new math accounting procedures," Rukavina said. "I don’t think he could pass Accounting 101 using this principle."
Pawlenty wouldn’t take the Rukavina bait. "We are always interested in his perspective," he said.
Unlike most spending areas of the state budget, the state can head into a new fiscal year without passing a new tax law. Old tax policies continue until changed.
The lack of a bill means aid checks to city, county and township governments will remain static, wiping out $93 million in additional funding approved by the Legislature. Tax breaks sought by the Mall of American and publisher Thomson West for building expansions won’t occur. And the state couldn’t come through with a $39 million financial guarantee promised to planners of the 2008 Republican National Convention.
Pawlenty said Republican convention officials "are willing to give us some breathing room on that issue." A convention contract included the expectation that the financial backup would be in place by Aug. 1 and available to tap if fundraising fell short of goals.
House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, said he’d be surprised if convention organizers made much out of the unfulfilled commitment.
"It would be foolish for the Republican National Convention team to punish a principled governor for taking a stand," he said.
With this week’s actions, the 2008-09 budget is complete. It will total $34.5 billion, about 9.6 percent more than the present two-year budget.