Pawlenty on Porkulus: The Pizza Principle

Jim Geraghty caught up with Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, attending the National Governors Association meeting, and asked whether Pawlenty would follow suit with fellow Republican governors Bobby Jindal, Haley Barbour, and Mark Sanford in refusing Porkulus funds.  Pawlenty tried to carve a middle path, pointing out that the strings attached to the stimulus spending won’t affect Minnesota in the same way as Louisiana, but justified taking the money on the Pizza Principle:

Minnesota ranks forty-sixth in terms of getting federal spending in relation to the amount of taxes paid — for every dollar we sent in to Washington, we get about 72 cents back. We’re a major payer of the federal government’s tabs, unlike many other states that I won’t mention. I say, when you’re paying to buy the pizza, it’s okay to have a slice. Now, if you were a liberal Democratic governor and you opposed military spending, are you not going to take National Guard funding? If you were a liberal who opposed No Child Left Behind, are you going to take federal funding in education? So I’m wondering why that standard is only being applied now to conservatives.

In large part, the double standard exists because conservatives object to federal control over the spending in the first place.  Liberals don’t object to federal control over education and other extra-Constitutional duties, so accepting money for education spending in Porkulus even if they disagree with NCLB isn’t quite the same rhetorical leap.  The proper conservative response to the argument would be that the federal government should quit taking so much money from the states — and then we wouldn’t need to worry how much of it comes back, because it won’t have left in the first place.  Except for national defense, interstate commerce, and other explicitly federal functions, the money would get spent better and with more oversight if handled by the states.

Of course, that’s an entirely academic approach to the question.  In reality, the money will come from Minnesota, and the question is whether the Pizza Principle applies.  King Banaian, for one, thinks it a childish argument for accepting the money:

So let’s see:

  1. Others are taking the money too, so why shouldn’t I?
  2. Since I have to pay anyway, I might as well get my stuff. (Sounds like the argument for spending on the Twins.)

I hope Littlest learns better than this. We wouldn’t accept this logic from our children.

I think it’s a little more complicated than that.  Minnesotans will pay for their portion of Porkulus, pending a hopeful repeal in 2011 if the Republicans can take charge of Congress.  Refusing the money on principle sounds noble, but in effect will amount to a double taxation on Minnesotans.  I don’t think that’s a winning argument, either; I think conservatives should refuse the money in an effort to reduce the spending and then demand a reduction in federal bureaucracy to return money to state control.  I just don’t think that Pawlenty’s argument is as bad as some might think.

In terms of the situation with other governors, Pawlenty makes a good point in their support, regardless of what he himself does:

All the governors are going to take almost all of the money. I’m not aware of any governor turning down a substantial amount. There’s some talk about not taking unemployment insurance — about 2 percent of the stimulus — because it expands obligations in unemployment insurance, and might require a tax increase later on down the road. But the point is moot to Minnesota, because our benefit level is already beyond what the federal government would require.

None of the governors are refusing the entire package in any case.  They’re looking line by line for unfunded mandates in the future and making decisions based on their own economic situation on each entry.  That’s just good fiscal management, but it’s not a refusenik movement by any means.  Since the cash involved in that particular line item doesn’t commit Minnesota to any more spending than already required by state law, Pawlenty makes a fair point that there’s not any reason to refuse it as Jindal has done in Louisiana, especially since Jindal and the rest will accept most of the monies from Porkulus anyway.