We don't need budget advice from Tim Pawlenty

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty was in Iowa this weekend to headline an event organized by Iowans for Tax Relief. The crowd cheered the future presidential candidate after Pawlenty blasted the Obama administration and proposed one bad idea after another.

Pawlenty’s “economic bill of rights” includes requiring Congress to balance the budget every year. Freezing or reducing federal spending every time revenue drops is great if you like turning recessions into depressions, but basic economic facts won’t stop Pawlenty from pandering to the “Party of Hoover” set. I wonder whether Pawlenty’s proposed balanced budget amendment still includes “exceptions for war, natural disasters and other emergencies.”

Pawlenty also wants line-item veto powers for the president. The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that unconstitutional at the federal level, and it’s unlikely Congress would ever approve a constitutional amendment on this matter.

In addition, Pawlenty favors extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Those tax cuts didn’t prevent the most severe economic recession since World War II, but they did manage to massively increase our national debt and deficit while delivering most of the benefits to the top few percent of the population.

But wait, there’s more to Pawlenty’s wish list: “He also called for requiring a supermajority of Congress to raise taxes or the debt ceiling.” Unfortunately, that would exacerbate our budget problems. When the Pew Center on the States examined state fiscal problems last year, a common feature of the states deemed “most like California” was a supermajority requirement for tax increases or budget decisions.

By the way, Iowa received higher overall marks than Minnesota in that Pew Center on the States report, which looked at six indicators to determine each state’s fiscal health.

Speaking to the Iowans for Tax Relief crowd, Pawlenty bragged about getting Minnesota out of the top 10 states for taxes but glossed over other aspects of his record as governor. Iowa Republicans have hammered Democrats for supposedly “overspending,” even though our state leaders have kept our budget balanced without depleting our state’s reserve accounts. What would they say if they knew about Pawlenty’s record?

During Pawlenty’s first year as governor, the state drew down its reserves and relied too heavily on one-time revenue to address its budget problem.  As a result, the state lost its Aaa bond rating from Moody’s Investors Service; the state has yet to regain its Aaa rating from Moody’s.

The 2009 report of the bi-partisan Minnesota Budget Trends Study Commission has recommended that the state build up its budget reserves and cash flow account in response to an increasingly unstable revenue outlook.  All members of the Commission, including the five appointed by Governor Pawlenty, endorsed this recommendation.

Pawlenty and state legislators couldn’t agree on an approach to balance the Minnesota budget. As a result, last year “Minnesota’s [projected] budget gap was the largest in the nation on a per capita basis.” Pawlenty can bash President Obama, but his state desperately needed the roughly $2.6 billion it received through the federal stimulus bill to help cover the shortfall. Even with the stimulus money, Minnesota was still billions of dollars short. So, in addition to some spending cuts, Pawlenty proposed “a bond issue that would be paid for by existing and forecast revenues from the tobacco settlement-a one-time fix disliked by some because it aimed to use long-term borrowing to pay for current state operations.”

To be clear: Pawlenty wanted the state of Minnesota to borrow money to pay its bills. In contrast, Iowa’s state borrowing program (I-JOBS) is funding capital investments in infrastructure. Last summer, Iowans for Tax Relief in effect ran the Republican campaign for a special election in Iowa House district 90. During that campaign, the Republican candidate made false and misleading claims about Iowa’s state budget and borrowing. How ironic that the Iowans for Tax Relief crowd gave a standing ovation to a panderer with a much worse record of fiscal management.

Not only did Pawlenty want Minnesota to borrow money to pay its bills, he also decided that underfunding local governments and forcing them to draw down their own reserves was a good way to control spending for the 2010-2011 budget period. Yes, Pawlenty decided in 2009 that cutting aid to local governments by hundreds of millions of dollars was a good way to balance the state budget:

“Many [cities], if not all, have reserve funds, or rainy day funds, and they should use them,” Pawlenty said.

He also talked of the option cities have of raising property taxes to make up for any LGA [local government aid] cuts.

One of the Republican talking points against Iowa Governor Chet Culver is that his midyear budget cuts supposedly forced local governments to raise property taxes. Yet Pawlenty gets a free pass from his Iowa Republican friends. Culver’s across-the-board budget cut last October wasn’t popular, but it did keep state government from overspending. In contrast, late last year Minnesota’s cash flow was so poor that state officials considered short-term borrowing to meet budget obligations.

“It’s a bad sign,” said former state Finance Commissioner Peggy Ingison, now chief financial officer with Minneapolis public schools. “It signals you didn’t have good fiscal discipline.”

Minnesota has muddled through without borrowing money to pay bills so far, but prospects for later this year are dicey:

State budget officials updated lawmakers [April 12] on Minnesota’s precarious cash-flow situation. They all but ruled out short-term borrowing for the 2010 budget year that ends June 30.

Budget director Jim Schowalter says “deep cash problems” loom for the 2011 fiscal year. Barring law changes, spending cuts and upticks in revenue, he says the state might have to take out short-term loans to meet its obligations.

The Minnesota Budget Bites blog takes a more detailed look at the state’s “troublesome” picture for fiscal year 2011. BulliedPulpit posted a good rebuttal of “TPawnomics” at MN Progressive Project.

The last thing our country needs is budget advice from Tim Pawlenty.  

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American Future Fund wants FEC to overturn robocall bans

Interesting story from the Des Moines Register’s Iowa Politics Insider blog:

The American Future Fund Political Action has asked the Federal Election Commission for an advisory opinion about whether federal law preempts laws like that in Minnesota.

In that state, a live operator must initiate the recorded call with the consent of the person receiving the call.

The political action committee, which raises and contributes money for political campaigns, is based in Virginia, but its advocacy arm, American Future Fund, is run out of Des Moines.

Des Moines lawyer Nick Ryan, chairman of American Future Fund’s board, said such restrictions interfere with federal campaign finance laws, which cover the activities of federal candidates, national party organizations and political action committees.

Ryan argued that the issue his group is raising is about fairness. For example, it is more expensive to conduct a telephone campaign that requires hiring staff, an obstacle to candidates with small warchests, Ryan said.

For background on the American Future Fund, read this Daily Kos diary by Mrs Panstreppon and this article by Jason Hancock for the Iowa Independent.

This FEC request suggests that the group plans to continue to be involved in upcoming elections in Minnesota, perhaps including the 2010 governor’s race or Congressional elections. Iowa doesn’t have any restrictions on political robocalls. The American Future Fund has run television ads in Minnesota this fall and ran ads supporting Republican Senator Norm Coleman last year. In fact, Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party filed an FEC complaint against the group:

“The American Future Fund is a shadowy nonprofit organization,” the complaint said. “It purports to be exempt from tax under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code. But its notion of ‘promoting the social welfare’ is to send valentines to electorally troubled Republican Senate candidates. The Commission should take immediate steps to enforce the law and expose this group’s secret financing to light of day.”

Here in Iowa, the American Future Fund seems to be backing Terry Branstad for governor. Tim Albrecht was that group’s communications director before taking a job with the Branstad campaign. Nicole Schlinger, former president of the American Future Fund, is now handling fundraising for the Branstad campaign.

A member of the Des Moines business community tells me that Ryan has been making fundraising calls for Branstad’s campaign. I don’t know if he’s doing that on his own time or as part of his work for the American Future Fund. Ryan has worked for Bruce Rastetter, one of the Iowa business leaders deeply involved in recruiting Branstad to run for governor again.

UPDATE: The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office will submit comments to the FEC defending that state’s law.

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Congratulations, Senator Al Franken

UPDATE: The Des Moines Register reports that Franken will headline Senator Tom Harkin’s steak fry on September 13.

The 2008 elections finally ended today. Norm Coleman conceded the U.S. race in Minnesota following a unanimous state Supreme Court ruling in Al Franken’s favor.

Talking Points Memo posted their Top 10 moments from the mostly infuriating, sometimes comical Franken-Coleman saga.

We can laugh at Coleman’s pretzel logic during the legal proceedings, but unfortunately, his gamesmanship deprived Minnesota of full representation in the Senate for half a year. In all likelihood Franken will be stuck with less-than-stellar committee assignments. Also, the delay did lasting damage to Franken’s seniority. Had he been sworn in on time, he would have outranked several fellow Senate Democrats, which could become important one or two terms down the road.

Nevertheless, I have high hopes for Senator Franken and look forward to his work in Washington.

P.S.- I still don’t understand why so many Minnesotans voted for Dean Barkley.

P.P.S.- Rush Limbaugh is still a big fat idiot.  

Sore loser Coleman has done lasting harm to Minnesota

For at least the last three months, Norm Coleman has had no realistic hope of winning Minnesota’s U.S. Senate election, but that hasn’t stopped him from fighting the inevitable in court. It’s obvious that Coleman’s legal maneuvering has no goal other than to keep Al Franken out of the Senate for as long as possible.

That has collateral benefits for Republicans on a national scale, making it harder for Senate Democrats to win 60 votes to break a filibuster. Barack Obama may have been able to get his economic stimulus bill through the Senate with fewer concessions if he had needed only two Republicans to sign on (instead of three).

Unfortunately for our neighbors to the north, Coleman’s obstruction has done significant and lasting harm to Minnesota. John Deeth explains why in this great post about seniority rules in the U.S. Senate. Had Franken been sworn in with the rest of the class elected last November, he would now rank 94th in seniority, but instead he’s going to rank 100th (click the link for the full explanation, which is worth your time).

Making matters worse for Minnesota: all six of the senators Franken should outrank, but doesn’t, are fellow Democrats.

How much this matters in the long run depends on the longevity of the six senators who leapfrogged over Franken. […]

Michael Bennet and Kirsten Gillibrand will probably face primaries, too, but after a first electoral test they, and Merkley and Begich, could last awhile (particularly Gillibrand, who at 42 is the youngest Senator). Franken, at age 57, could be around long enough that those lost months of seniority will make a difference between him and let’s say Gillibrand getting a chairmanship sometime around 2018.

If you want to make Republicans pay for Coleman’s sore-loserdom, support the campaign Senate Guru wrote about over the weekend: “A Dollar a Day to Make Norm Go Away.”  

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Thank heaven for paper ballots

The recount to determine the winner of Minnesota’s Senate race has been going on for six weeks, with a court challenge likely if Al Franken, who leads narrowly, is declared the winner. (WineRev’s diaries tell you everything you need to know about what’s going on in that race.)

Imagine how much more contentious this process would be if Minnesota did not use paper ballots in every county. Less than one one-hundredth of a percent of the vote separates Franken from Republican incumbent Norm Coleman. If touchscreen voting machines had been involved in any way, large numbers of people would surely believe the election had been rigged in favor of whoever came out ahead.

Mark Halvorson of Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota published this piece on what has worked well during the Minnesota recount, and how the system could still be improved.

Iowa had more state legislative races decided by less than 1 percent of the vote this year than in any other election I can remember. Fortunately, the state legislature heeded Secretary of State Mike Mauro’s call to require optical scanner machines with paper ballots in every county, and Governor Chet Culver signed that bill into law this spring. Otherwise the legitimacy of these extremely close races could have been questioned.

If you run into Mauro, thank him for his efforts to improve Iowa’s voting system, and encourage him to ask the legislature to take the next step toward “verified voting” (mandatory manual audits of voter-verified paper records). That would allay fears about malfunctions or tampering with the optical scanners as they count the votes.

As this map at VerifiedVoting.org shows, Minnesota is one of 18 states that has mandatory manual audits of voter-verified paper records. Iowa is one of 13 states that require paper ballots, but without mandatory audits to make sure the scanners are producing accurate counts.

Keep your eye on the Iowa Voters blog for updates on election integrity news and activism in Iowa.

Same-day voter registration works well

Secretary of State Mike Mauro announced last Friday that a record 1,546,453 Iowans voted in the general election, including 47,553 who registered to vote on election day. In the days before Iowa allowed same-day voter registration, many people did not vote because by the time they became interested in a political campaign, the deadline to register had passed.

Republicans across the country throw around allegations about voter fraud, but states that have had same-day registration for a long time have not experienced this problem.

Take Minnesota, for instance. About one one-hundredth of a percent of the vote separates Al Franken and Norm Coleman in the U.S. Senate race. And yet:

[I]t’s worth noting that neither the Al Franken nor Norm Coleman camps has accused election officials of allowing significant numbers of ineligible people to vote. The two campaigns’ close scrutiny of events on Nov. 4 apparently has found nothing notably defective in either the voter registration or sign-in that occurred at the polls.

That’s the way it has been in every election since Minnesota began allowing voters to register at the polls in 1973. Ramsey County elections manager Joe Mansky said that, in his 24 years as a state and county elections administrator, the number of cases of orchestrated group efforts to subvert the law by registering improperly or voting multiple times has been “exactly zero.”

“There has been the occasional individual” who attempted to vote when or where he or she was not eligible. “But we have their driver’s license or their Social Security numbers,” or other means of detecting inaccurate registrations. “We find them and we prosecute them,” he said.

Only nine states allow voters to register on election day. I’d like to see same-day voter registration implemented across the country.

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