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Column: Four years of failures

ST. PAUL -- In January 2007 -- when Rep. Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, assumed the post of speaker of the House -- the second most powerful job in state government, the state budget outlook was positive. The state budget forecast projected a $2 billion surplus for the next two-year cycle.

With this rosy economic picture, even the Minneapolis liberal could proclaim: "The Democratic House Caucus is fiscally conservative and does not plan any major tax increases."

During her first year as House Speaker, we saw spending increases of $6 billion.

But soon Kelliher's big-spending habits would kick into high gear. In the early weeks of the 2008 session, the House pushed through a $6.6 billion transportation funding package, paid for with increases in the gas tax, license tax, excise tax and sales tax.

GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty quickly vetoed the bill, calling it excessive.

In response to Pawlenty's veto, Speaker Kelliher organized an override of the governor's veto and with great glee persuaded all DFL legislators and a handful of Republican House members to impose more than $6 billion in new taxes.

But Speaker Kelliher's spending spree wasn't over. Included in the 2008 legislative agenda was a proposed constitutional amendment for the fall election that would increase taxes for the arts and outdoor entertainment by more than $250 million a year.

By the end of the legislative session in 2008, the $2 billion budget surplus from just 18 months earlier was gone, so was $500 million in budget reserves, plus there was an increase of more $800 million in various taxes and fees.

In November of 2008, voters approved the constitutional amendment for a sales tax increase, just before the general economy started to plunge.

At the start of the 2009 legislative session, the state budget forecast showed a $3.8 billion deficit, which would balloon to $6.4 billion by March. Under Speaker Kelliher's leadership, the House passed a $1.5 billion package of tax increases to try and close the budget gap.

But, unable to reach agreement with the Senate on a tax bill, the speaker resorted to a scaled back $1 billion tax bill that was sent to Gov. Pawlenty, despite a clear warning that he would veto the bill.

With time running out in the 2009 session, the speaker again pushed through another $1 billion tax package combined with a $1.7 billion delay in school payments in what was a failed attempt to balance the state's budget.

Even with considerable financial help from the federal government, to the tune of about $2 billion, the governor was left to make the remaining $2.7 billion in spending reductions via the unallotment process to finally bring the budget into balance for the 2010-2011 biennium.

But with tax receipts continuing to decline, the state budget forecast in February 2010 projected a $1 billion deficit for the remainder of the 2010-11 biennial budget.

Now with just one week before the Constitutional adjournment day for the Legislature, Speaker Kelliher's caucus has yet to produce a balanced budget.

In just four short years of Speaker Kelliher's budgeting failures, the State of Minnesota has gone from a $2 billion budget surplus to a projected $7 billion budget deficit for 2012-13.

Now we have last week's decision by the Minnesota Supreme Court, pronouncing that Gov. Pawlenty had overstepped his authority with his $2.7 billion in unallotments in June of 2009.

This surprise decision by the high court now places an even greater burden on the Legislature and the speaker because the budget deficit is now more than $3 billion.

Tallying up this record of fiscal mismanagement, the speaker has increased taxes by more than $1 billion per year under her watch, delayed almost $2 billion in payments to schools, increased fees by millions of dollars and left the state borrowing money from every available state fund that had any untapped resources.

As the DFL-endorsed candidate from governor, Speaker Kelliher will blame Gov. Pawlenty for these budget woes, but the reality is the Legislature has the sole responsibility for appropriating funds. The simple truth is Speaker Kelliher cannot shift the blame, given that she has been a key player in creating this budget disaster.

Since the major media outlets have avoided relaying this historical perspective, it will now be up to Kelliher's DFL and Republican gubernatorial opponents to highlight her excessive tax-and-spending failures.

Phil Krinkie is a former Republican state representative from Lino Lakes and president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota.