Media Matters Action Network

Pawlenty Absolves Himself Of Blame For Minnesota's Deficit

April 27, 2011 12:05 pm ET

During an April 25 interview on Fox News, GOP presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty stumbled when host Greta Van Susteren pointed to the massive deficit he left behind in Minnesota. The former governor was quick to blame Democratic state legislators for the state's budget woes, while claiming, "Every budget during my time as governor was balanced." In fact, Pawlenty's temporary budgetary fixes relied heavily on federal stimulus money that didn't prevent him from leaving behind "one of the worst" deficits in the nation.

Pawlenty Denies Responsibility For Minnesota Deficit


GRETA VAN SUSTEREN (Host): Why do you think you can beat President Obama more than other Republican candidates?

TIM PAWLENTY: Well, first of all, I've governed, got elected and reelected in a very blue place. I mean, Minnesota, the land of Humphrey, Mondale, Wellstone and now U.S. Senator Al Franken. I was able to move the needle on spending, on taxes, health care reform and many other things. So, it's not only about giving a speech or offering a failed amendment in Congress. I got this stuff done in a difficult environment.

VAN SUSTEREN:  Except — except that you said no new taxes and you're getting hit by your critics because you also left a 6.5 billion dollar deficit, or some huge amount. So, you know, so you're going to get hit a little bit with that.

PAWLENTY:  Every state in the nation with only a couple of exceptions has a deficit, Greta, and in the case of Minnesota that assumes a big increase in state spending, 20 plus percent. And by the way, every budget during my time as governor was balanced, including the one that's going to end this summer — for the two year period ending this summer is going to probably end in the black. And as to the future projected deficit, it assumes a 20 plus percent increase in spending which is preposterous. If they had a reasonable amount of spending, even in a small increase, they wouldn't have a deficit at all.  [Fox News, 4/25/11, emphasis added]

Pawlenty's Deficit Legacy Haunts Him Back Home

Pawlenty Faces A "Growing Chorus Of Criticism Back Home" For "One Of The Worst" National Deficits. According to NPR: "But he's facing an organized and growing chorus of criticism back home, where he left office in January with approval ratings south of 50 percent and a state budget deficit projected at $5 billion. The former governor has repeatedly blamed Democrats in the Legislature for the deficit, one of the worst in the nation." [NPR, 4/25/11]

Former Republican Governor Blames Pawlenty For State Budget Woes, Describing His Policies As "Gimmicks" And "Deficit Heaven."  Longtime Minnesota Republican Gov. Arne Carlson has become one of Pawlenty's harshest budget critics. According to

Gimmicks replaced the reforms of the Carlson years, Carlson said. Tobacco settlement money was used as a one-time budget-balancing fix. School funding aid was shifted. Federal stimulus money was used.

"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."

[, 4/22/11]

CNN: Pawlenty "Left Office Earlier This Year With A $6 Billion Deficit And Higher Unemployment Than When He Became Governor." According to CNN: "The two-term governor of Minnesota touts himself as a fiscal conservative and standing up to the state's unions and special interests. In the early years of his tenure the state had budget surpluses. With the effects of the recession still being felt, he left office earlier this year with a $6 billion deficit and higher unemployment than when he became governor." [CNN, 3/21/11]

Pawlenty Achieved Temporary Surplus With Federal Stimulus Money

Federal Stimulus Money Allowed For Slight Surplus In 2009. As reported: "A revised budget forecast released this morning shows that the deficit has grown from $4.8 billion to about $6.3 billion. But because of federal stimulus money, directed mostly to Medical Assistance, the projected budget deficit is forecast to be $4.57 billion for the 2010-11 biennium. The one bit of good news is that thanks to stimulus money, there will be a slight - $200 million - surplus at the end of 2009, meaning there should be no need for another round of unallotments for the current biennium." [, 3/3/09, emphasis added]

Pawlenty's "Temporary Fix" For A Balanced Budget "Relied Heavily On One-Time Federal Stimulus Money." According to Minnesota Public Radio (MPR):

When Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the DFL-controlled Legislature balanced the budget last spring, they relied heavily on one-time federal stimulus money and delayed payments to school districts.

That temporary fix continues to hold and even resulted in a $399 million surplus on the current bottom line, meaning Minnesota will not have to borrow money in the short term to pay its bills.

But the financial picture beginning in fiscal 2012 looks grim for Pawlenty's successor and the new GOP legislative majority. Steve Sviggum, the newly installed commissioner of Minnesota Management and Budget, described its as "unfinished business."

[MPR, 12/2/10, emphasis added]

Fox: Pawlenty's "Faux-Surplus" Deceiving Because Of Delayed Payments. According to local Fox 21 news:

Minnesota faces a nearly $7 billion deficit about starting July 2011, according to state projections.  Local lawmakers say more than half of that shortfall comes from delayed payments to K-12 school.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty ended his term as governor with a $400 million surplus.  But, that amount is deceiving because going into next year the state owes $4 billion in payments to schools, lawmakers said.

Local legislatures say they blame "band-aid" fixes to big problems for the sky-rocketing budget.  But, now the problems are too big to ignore.


Pawlently's faux-surplus will be directly applied to the 2011-2012 deficit.  So, legislators will focus on a number around $6.2 billion.

[, 12/2/10, emphasis added]

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