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MMB: The gang that couldn’t count straight?

One of the most commonly heard complaints about the Pawlenty administration from Democrats at the Capitol this year involves the caliber of the work being done by the crew at the Department of Management and Budget. It’s one of those inside-politics subjects that’s rarely broached publicly, although former Gov. Arne Carlson did allude to it in a PIM interview in February. ("The truth is, Minnesota has allowed its finance department to grow weaker and weaker in terms of talent," Carlson said at the time. "That has to stop.")

This morning’s meeting of the Legislative Commission on Planning and Fiscal Policy contained a lengthy dust-up between Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller (DFL-Minneapolis) and MMB Commissioner Tom Hanson that isn’t likely to improve MMB’s reputation at the Legislature. [Clip: Download the MP3 here (2.2MB). Entire hearing: Windows/Real Video here].

It began with Pogemiller issuing a challenge to Hanson to defend a claim made by Gov. Tim Pawlenty at a press conference last week. Here’s a partial transcript of the first few minutes of that exchange:

Pogemiller: [The governor] said that the Senate actually increased spending while he cut spending. I’m asking both of you as professionals, is that an accurate statement?

Hanson: I haven’t actually watched [Pawlenty’s press conference]…

Pogemiller: Well, if the governor said that the Senate increases spending while he cuts spending, is that an accurate statement?

[A 34-second pause ensues as Hanson and Schowalter put their heads together off-mike.]

Pogemiller: You want to talk to your lawyer?

Hanson: Madame Speaker, Senator, I have looked at about eight different updates of the spreadsheet since I looked at this one — since the middle of last Wednesday. So — and I wasn’t at the press conference. I briefed the governor that morning, gave him the sheet, and then realized there was a press conference. So now I’m — it’s not that I need to talk to my lawyer. I’m trying to recreate in my mind what we knew last Wednesday as opposed to what we know now.

Pogemiller: Commissioner, I’m most interested in whether the statement is factual or not. Forget the numbers — I mean, forget what the governor did with this sheet. The speaker’s just proven that this sheet is full of — well, let’s put it this way: A sheet can be done more accurately than this.

Hanson: Oh, it’s a draft. OK? The mistake is that we didn’t put "draft" on it.

Pogemiller: You know what the Senate budget is. Does the Senate actually increase spending in its budget while the governor cuts spending?…

Hanson: If you look at it on a biennium — and again, we have now — in retrospect, this would have said not just "draft," but "extremely draft," this, if you look at it from a biennial, and that’s one of the updates that I have, you know, and again, you can compare it by biennium, Sen. Pogemiller, or to the forecast. The sheet I have in front of me now shows the Senate with a $1.7 [billion] reduction from biennium to biennium in ’10 and ’11….

On and on it went, in more or less this vein. [Download the MP3 here (2.2MB)].

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