Monday, December 6, 2010

Wait Just A Minnesota Minute

In the Minnesota gubernatorial election, it seems that an almost-concluded recount will confirm that the Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidate Mark Dayton has beaten Republican Tom Emmer. By a very, very narrow margin, mind you, but still, by enough.

Why does this matter to New Jersey? Because this race decided who was to succeed Tim Pawlenty as Governor. Like Chris Christie, Pawlenty is a conservative Republican who governed a blue state. Pawlenty and Christie have pursued similar agendas -- alleging to have balanced budgets without raising taxes and catering to social conservatives. So, if history is unkind to Pawlenty's legacy in Minnesota, it may give Christie pause in pursuing the same policies as Pawlenty. Or at the very least provide Christie's detractors with some grist for their mills.

And Pawlenty leaves some pretty big issues on the table. For example, although Pawlenty claims to have balanced Minnesota's budget and to actually have a $399 million surplus, he did so in part by deferring some payments to the next 2 year budget cycle, such as K-12 education expenses. So not only does Minnesota's structural deficit remain, but overdue bills from the Pawlenty administration are driving the deficit for the next budget cycle to $6.2 billion. Which echoes Governor Christie's refusal to put aside money for public employee pensions and the State's structural Transportation Trust Fund deficit.

Interestingly enough, Dayton confirmed that, if elected, he would raise taxes on Minnesotans. Kind of like that other famous Minnesotan, Walter Mondale. But apparently, Minnesotans like hearing the truth (it was the only state to go for Mondale in his 1984 presidential campaign against Reagan). So if Pawlenty leaves office and the new Minnesota Governor starts saying that Pawlenty's policies were so much smoke and mirrors, leaving Minnesota in a worse state than before, so that tax increases are the only solution, it could be a message that resonates with moderates.

There may yet be some drama left for Minnesota as a result of this year's gubernatorial election. If Emmer challenges Dayton's win in court, Dayton may not be confirmed by January 3. In which case Pawlenty says he will stay on.

Minnesota has until January 15 to decide whether or not to accept $1.4 billion in Medicaid funds tied to the new federal health care law. If Pawlenty is governor on January 15, he will decline the money -- even though this was a big issue in the campaign and the candidate who said he would accept the money, Dayton, won. The reason Pawlenty won't accept the money is because he personally does not believe in big government and thus must decline the money -- which translates into a statement that accepting ObamaCare money will anger the tea party activists Pawlenty needs to survive the 2012 Republican presidential primaries.

So stay focused on Minnesota is you want some help reading New Jersey's political tea leaves.

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