The microcosm in Minnesota

There’s a certain familiarity to all of this.

Minnesota began what is expected to become the broadest shutdown of state services in its history on Friday, after Republicans and Democrats here failed to agree on how to solve the state’s budget woes in time for the new fiscal year.

And so, as the holiday weekend opened, residents and visitors were finding the state’s parks, historical sites and the Minnesota Zoo closed, new hunting and fishing licenses unavailable, and the state lottery and racetracks shuttered. Most rest areas along highways were closed. Tens of thousands of state employees were being sent home without pay, and contractors were told to walk away from hundreds of road construction projects already under way during Minnesota’s often brief summer building season.

Minnesotans elected a Democratic chief executive to replace a failed Republican, and elected far-right GOP lawmakers for the legislature. Republican policymakers wants to close the budget gap left over from the governor’s GOP predecessor by cutting spending, while the new Democratic governor wants to raise taxes on millionaires to prevent undue hardship on the most vulnerable.

Republicans don’t care for that plan, so they shutdown the government.

It’s worth noting that Gov. Mark Dayton (D) presented his tax plan in 2010 as a candidate, and became the first Democratic governor of Minnesota in two decades. It’s not like the state is reflexively opposed to any tax increases — Dayton arguably has a mandate to pursue this path.

Let’s also not forget who left the mess for these Minnesota policymakers to clean up.

Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty left office earlier this year after two terms, and left a fiscal disaster in his wake.

Although Tim Pawlenty talks a lot about fiscal responsibility, critics in Minnesota — including Arne Carlson, another former two-term Republican governor there — are framing the looming shutdown as the ultimate legacy of his governorship, which drew to a close in January. They accuse his administration of fuzzy accounting that gave the illusion of austerity while setting the state up for disaster. […]

Although he did make plenty of “tough” (his adjective of choice) reductions in spending—cutting funding to public services like health care, for instance—he also adopted many of the same practices he accuses President Obama of using, like deferring the costs for spending projects onto future taxpayers.

Pawlenty turned in balanced budgets, Carlson explains, but only superficially. When he wasn’t skirting his pledge not to raise taxes by using linguistic jujitsu — turning a sales tax increase on cigarettes into a “health impact fee,” for instance — Pawlenty was simply redistributing the burden, from St. Paul to local authorities, or to the taxpayers themselves. According to Carlson, property taxes increased by $716 million in the eight years before Pawlenty took office; over his eight years as governor, they jumped by $2.5 billion. As Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, a Democrat, noted in April: “If the tea party really knew how much Tim Pawlenty raised taxes in Minnesota, they would throw him in Boston Harbor.”

Those stealth tax hikes were buttressed by accounting gimmicks. In some cases, payments would be pushed back a few days until after the start of a new fiscal year, creating the false impression that the deficit had in fact been erased. In other cases, he stole from Peter to pay St. Paul. Pawlenty raided the coffers of select state agencies in order to provide a short-term patch for others — a strategy the Minnesota Taxpayers Association has called “budgetary duct tape.” Pawlenty took $1 billion from a settlement with tobacco companies that had been earmarked for health care services and used it for the general budget. He borrowed another $1.4 billion from the state’s K-12 education fund. And he quietly accepted $2.3 billion in stimulus funds while publicly lambasting the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

And as Minnesotans struggle with the fiscal mess and the government shutdown, Pawlenty has the gall to say these developments may very well be a good thing.

This guy shouldn’t be running for president; he should be running for the hills.