Since Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is a front-runner for the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination, and since Mr. Pawlenty is playing to the same tea party faithful as is our Governor Christie, and since I see a lot of similarities in the way Pawlenty has run Minnesota and the way Christie intends to run New Jersey, I think what happens in Minnesota may hold some clues as to what the future holds for New Jersey.
In 2009, Governor Pawlenty sought to balance the State budget by "unalloting" budget items approved by the legislature. When the State Supreme Court ruled Pawlenty's "unalloting" unconstitutional, the State was faced with a $3 billion budget gap.
So the Governor and the legislature got together and hammered out a budget deal. Most of the "unallotments" were ratified by the legislature. Minnesota closed its budget gap by delaying $1.9 billion in payments to elementary and secondary schools, which had been due by June, 2011. In exchange, the Governor agreed to allow his successor to decide whether or not to move low-income Minnesotans from a State health plan to Medicaid earlier than 2014, when they are already scheduled to become eligible for Medicaid. And there will be no increase in taxes.
So Governor Pawlenty has a public relations victory on which to launch his Presidential campaign. Balanced budget, no new taxes, not allowing the courts to legislate from the bench, etc.
And what about Minnesota? Those deferred payments to the schools? There will be no money to pay those amounts anytime soon. In fact, there is a projected $5.8 billion deficit in the State's next 2 year budget cycle. So that part of the bargain is fictional.
And the likelihood that low-income Minnesotans will be enrolled in Medicaid early? Governor Pawlenty has already gone on record as saying it's a bad idea, as has State Representative and Republican endorsed gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer. In fact, the gubernatorial election will largely function as a mandate on the Medicaid enrollment proposal.
Now, it is true that Minnesota has not supported a GOP candidate for President since Nixon. But at the state and local level, elections are competitive. So early expanded Medicaid access is no sure thing. Meaning what the Governor gave in the bargain may not have been anything of substance.
So what we have is a political win for Pawlenty, and a gap in the next budget cycle almost twice the size of the deficit being avoided now for Minnesotans. Plus a school funding crisis and little change of reducing health care payments until 2014.
Where the tea party leads, chaos follows.
Here in New Jersey, our Governor repeatedly says he does not care about being re-elected. He will not raise taxes, and has cut aid to schools and municipalities across the state. He wants to send corporate income tax dollars to private schools at the expense of already failing public schools. He is doing everything he can to knock unionized labor out of the middle class.
For himself, he will build a tea party approved resume. But at the expense of public employees and public schools.
So to the Democrats in New Jersey government who think there is middle ground to find with Governor Christie, take note. The only way to win the tea party game is to refuse to play. Override the Governor's veto of the reinstated millionaire's tax; vote down his plan to cap property tax increases at 2.5%; and wait to negotiate with the unions until the Governor has pounded his head against a stone wall long enough to realize that he has no political future in or out of New Jersey unless he stops padding his tea party resume and actually takes the long term needs of the State into account.