Governor Pawlenty visits Worthington
WORTHINGTON -- Preaching a message of fiscal responsibility, Gov. Tim Pawlenty touted ideas for improving the state's economy and efficiency during a luncheon Thursday at the Travelodge Hotel.
The event, hosted exclusively for members of the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce, was the governor's latest stop in a series of visits to Minnesota communities in recent weeks.
"It's a wonderful state, not because of the politics, but because of the wonderful people," Pawlenty said, expressing confidence that Minnesota will survive its budget turbulence. "We have good folks with the right attitude, and the right outlook."
That outlook, said Pawlenty, involves "living within your means," a theme the governor stressed over the course of his 40-minute remarks. As an example, he relayed a story about a man who rushes into a bar and orders the bartender to quickly make him seven whiskeys, then adds "make 'em doubles." The bartender then asks the man why he's in such a hurry.
'"You'd be in such a hurry if you got what I got.' The bartender says, 'What you got? The guy says 'A buck-25,'" Pawlenty said.
"This reflects the fact that we have to live within our means," the governor said. "We as a nation, as a state and sometimes as families and individuals get into trouble when we try to defy ... this."
Pawlenty, a Republican serving in his second term, recalled the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s and the technology boom and bust of the '90s -- as well as today's mortgage crisis -- as instances of people "doing things that just don't make any sense." He also lamented that both the federal deficit and federal spending have continued to have an unfavorable "trajectory," regardless of the political party in power.
"We just had Secretary of State (Hillary Rodham) Clinton in Communist China pleading to continue to buy our debt. ... If they don't continue, the United States of America can't continue to pay its bills," Pawlenty said.
Unlike the federal government, the State of Minnesota is constitutionally required to balance its budget, the governor noted. In order to do so, a fresh and through look at spending is required.
We have to be thinking about the strategic changes and improvements we can make as a state, as a county, as a city. ... Even in these tough economic times, we have to be willing to make these changes," Pawlenty said.
or, is to make Minnesota more "job- and business-friendly," adding that the state must continually find ways to stay competitive with, not only the rest of the nation, but the world as well.
"I'll be very blunt -- for too many businesses and many business sectors ... they're saying, 'It's too expensive to grow in our state," Pawlenty explained. "We need to fix that because we have to have jobs for our citizens."
Pawlenty proposes cutting the business tax rate from 9.8 percent ("the third highest business tax rate in the world," he said) to 4.8 percent. He also suggests an up-front sales tax exemption from the state for certain major equipment purchases for business, a minimum 50 percent capital gains tax credit for investments in Minnesota business and "investment tax credits" to encourage investment in entrepreneurship within the state. The governor is also a proponent of tax incentives for renewable energy-related initiatives.
Pawlenty also said that Minnesota's success as a state is dependent on success in the agricultural and livestock sectors. Health care, added the governor, needs to also be a critical focal point.
"We have to stop paying for volumes of procedures and start paying for better health," the governor stated. "What we're doing now with state employees -- we say 'You can go anywhere you want, but if you choose to go a really expensive place that has bad results, you're going to pay more than you would if you go to an efficient place with good outcomes."
As for education, Pawlenty lauded the state's system for earning a No. 1 U.S. ranking in ACT scores and producing high graduation rates.
"But we're working in a system that's outdated in many respects," he said. "We need to re-align the system from funding input and costs to funding results. ... We need to be paying for things that have a more direct impact on student learning."
Pawlenty noted that his Q-COMP proposal, a merit-pay program for teacher performance, is the type of approach embraced by Democratic President Barack Obama.
Higher education must heed the "explosion of digital and online learning," said the governor, noting that he's asking that at least 25 percent of schools in the MnSCU (Minnesota State Colleges and Universities) system be able to deliver classes in such a fashion by 2015.
Finally, Pawlenty said it would be a mistake to raise taxes "so we can go back to spending the way it was." It's an idea that's out of step with the times, he added.
"This is a state that should be focused on containing taxes and costs," he said.
Pawlenty spent the last several minutes of his appearance at the luncheon taking questions from the approximately 50 people in attendance. One of those in the audience was Minnesota West Community and Technical College President Richard Shrubb, who asked about the potential for resource sharing between government entities. The governor responded that such efforts between Minnesota and Wisconsin should be announced within the next several days, and that he was encouraging further aggregation of services wherever possible.
"There are 87 counties in Minnesota, and you don't need to do everything 87 times over," Pawlenty said.