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Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan April 12, 2011

Tim Pawlenty said in 2009, "we cut state spending in real terms for the first time in 150 years"

As part of his push for the presidency in 2012, Tim Pawlenty makes the case in his book Courage to Stand that he is a tested fiscal conservative.

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"Contrary to liberal rhetoric, spending cuts are not impossible. Take Minnesota, for example" he writes in his book’s conclusion. "I lowered the average growth of annual spending during my time as Governor to just under 2 percent and balanced the budget without raising taxes. In 2009, we cut spending in real terms for the first time in 150 years."

Pawlenty was governor of Minnesota from 2003 to 2011, serving two terms. Here, we’re checking Pawlenty’s statement that he "cut spending in real terms for the first time in 150 years."

Minnesota celebrated its 150th anniversary of statehood in 2008, but we should note it’s not possible to look at 150 years of state fiscal data. Minnesota Management and Budget, the state’s fiscal information agency, keeps stats only back to 1960. We asked the Pawlenty campaign whether they had more historical data, but we didn't hear back.

Looking at those stats, we can see that the 2010-2011 budget cycle -- a two-year budget referred to as a biennium -- marked the first drop in state spending since 1960, when state spending declined 10.9 percent.

Budget figures are available on an annual basis as well. By those numbers, the 2010 general fund budget year (which starts July 1, 2009), was not the first year spending dropped. Spending also dropped in 2009, 2004, 1986 and 1983, although it was up for the two-year cycles that included those years.

Finally, we should note that the 2010-2011 budget biennium was helped by a few factors.

Minnesota Management and Budget  said the state had used several mechanisms to put off state spending. That included $2.3 billion from the federal stimulus and two separate postponements in spending on K-12 education that totaled $1.9 billion and $1.4 billion. Those fixes went away the next budget cycle, and the budget agency projects a significant spending increase of 29.3 percent for the biennium.

In rating this statement, we find that Pawlenty did reduce spending for the two-year budget cycle for the first time since 1960. But there were several single-year decreases, two during Pawlenty’s tenure as governor (2009 and 2004), but also two before he was governor (1986 and 1983). The major reduction in the 2010-2011 budget cycle was achieved with a one-time infusion of federal dollars and measures that delayed state spending rather then permanently reducing it. Finally, we don't have 150 years of budget data to check. We only found data back to 1960, and Pawlenty's campaign provided no data to back up the claim covering the 100 years previous when we asked for it. If data emerges, we're willing to review the claim. But given the evidence at hand, we rate Pawlenty’s statement Barely True.

Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.

Our Sources

Minnesota Management and Budget, Historical Expenditures: General Funds, Feb. 28, 2011

Minnesota Management and Budget, Frequently Asked Questions, accessed March 29, 2011

Interview with John Pollard of Minnesota Management and Budget

St. Paul Pioneer Press, Pawlenty says he stopped spending binge; Others say he just delayed bigger problems, Dec. 21, 2010, accessed via Nexis

The Minneapolis Star Tribune, Painful projection: $6.2 billion deficit, Dec. 2, 2010

Minnesota Public radio, PoliGraph: Pawlenty spending claim lacks context, Jan. 27, 2011

Minnesota Budget Project, Governor’s budget spares K-12, but cost shifts remain, Feb. 22, 2010

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Tim Pawlenty said in 2009, "we cut state spending in real terms for the first time in 150 years"

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