Tim Pawlenty is hoping to leverage his record as governor of Minnesota into a successful presidential bid, often touting his tenure as evidence that he can successfully govern as a fiscal conservative. For example, during Fox News’ presidential debate in South Carolina earlier this month, Pawlenty said, “Every budget during my time as governor was balanced and the last one of those two-year budgets ends this coming summer, on June 30, and it’s going to end up in the black.”
But not everyone agrees with Pawlenty’s fiscal bona fides. Pawlenty’s predecessor, Arne Carlson, a Republican who was governor of Minnesota from 1991 to 1999, recently told Time magazine of the presidential hopeful, “I don’t think any governor has left behind a worse financial mess than he has.” Carlson is an avowed fiscal conservative who, in his retirement, has led a “Paul Revere Tour” to raise alarm about the state’s finances. Carlson has been a frequent critic of Pawlenty’s fiscal mismanagement and in April, he told Minn Post that Pawlenty undid important fiscal reforms and is solely to blame for the state’s fiscal morass:
“Under Tim Pawlenty, it became deficit heaven,” said Carlson. “All the things we did were undone. Now, what bothers me is you get these holier-than-thou attitudes. Oh, we’re all to blame. But that’s just not true. There’s one person who has the power to insist on a balanced budget. That’s the chief executive officer, the governor.”
Indeed, history sides with Carlson on this one. As CNN reported, thanks to Pawlenty’s refusal to even consider raising revenue, he left office “with a $6 billion deficit and higher unemployment than when he became governor.” In fact, Pawlenty’s deficit was “one of the highest in the nation as a percentage of the state’s general fund, only slightly trailing California’s massive gap,” the Los Angeles Times noted.
When he did balance the budget, Pawlenty relied on budget “gimmicks.” For example, “He postponed school and other obligations, leading to hikes in local property taxes and strains on school districts as burdens shifted downward.”
Perhaps even more unforgivable to conservatives, Pawlenty was only able to balance his budget by relying on President Obama’s stimulus package — the same stimulus package he derided as “a house of cards” of borrowed money that was “misdirected” and “largely wasted”. In fact, stimulus dollars accounted for “nearly one-third” of his budget gap. This led to what a local Fox affiliate dubbed a “faux-surplus.”
As for Pawlenty’s claim in the Fox News debate that he balanced the budget, while technically correct, it’s hardly something to write home about considering every Minnesota budget has to be balanced — the state constitution requires it.