Minnesota Governor Wields Veto to Protect Taxpayers

Published August 1, 2007

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) issued 20 full or partial vetoes of tax hikes and spending increases in May, giving taxpayers reason to smile.

Despite the vetoes, for only the third time in 20 years the Minnesota legislature will not be meeting in special session during a budget year. While that alone could be cause to celebrate, the work that was finished on the state’s $35 billion biennial budget will allow Minnesotans to rest easy until the legislature reconvenes in February 2008.

Minnesota taxpayer advocates had little reason for optimism at the start of the 2007 legislative session. But their spirits rose on April 14 when Twin Cities talk-radio host Jason Lewis gathered 7,000 people on the steps of the State Capitol in St. Paul for one of the largest pro-taxpayer rallies in Minnesota history.

‘Emergency’ Bill Veto

Then on May 1, Pawlenty, in a move that took everyone by surprise, vetoed an entire $334 million “emergency” capital investment bill. Pawlenty said in his veto message the bill authorized “more than four times more spending on projects than I requested and is simply too large.”

Two weeks later Pawlenty announced another important veto, this one to block a transportation bill containing more than $5 billion in tax and fee increases, including adding 7-1/2 cents to the per-gallon gasoline tax, a “wheelage” tax (a tax on vehicles), sales tax increases for transit spending, an excise tax on new car purchases, and increased tab and license fees with a total cost to the average Minnesota family of up to $500 a year.

Pawlenty ended the month of May vetoing tax bills approved by the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) party, which last November regained the majority in the House for the first time since 1998 by picking up 19 seats and expanded their majority in the Senate to a nearly veto-proof 44-23 margin.

No Tax Swap

The DFL tax bills included a subsidy for an expansion of the Mall of America, increased sales tax compliance measures, an autopilot mechanism for future increases in government expenditures, and a form of tax “relief” to which Pawlenty took particular exception. The state would have provided more money to local governments to allow them to reduce local property taxes.

“Buying down property taxes through local government aid programs has never proven to be a long-term solution to property tax pressures,” Pawlenty said in a May 30 veto message.

Phil Krinkie, president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, agreed.

“Relying on the benevolence of local units of government to restrain their spending and lower property taxes when the state drops sacks of money in their lap is simply foolish,” Krinkie said. “Thankfully, Minnesota has a governor that recognizes this.”

Unsuccessful Override

The transportation bill veto is the only one the DFL tried to override. The attempt came with less than 20 minutes remaining in the session and was defeated by House Republicans, led by Minority Leader Marty Seifert (R-Marshall).

“Democrats made too many campaign promises to win their seats and are now learning they can’t pay for them,” Marshall said after the failed override attempt.

Ultimately, it was the DFL’s inability to override any of Pawlenty’s vetoes–particularly of the transportation bill–that resulted in a comparatively small $3 billion increase in state spending with no new taxes.

Said Krinkie of the 2007 session, “Minnesotans really need to thank Gov. Pawlenty and Rep. Seifert’s House Republicans. These guys stood strong in the face of overwhelming pressure and came through for taxpayers when they really needed them.”

Mark Giga ([email protected]) is director of outreach at the Taxpayers League of Minnesota.