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Editorial: Gov. Pawlenty's PR trip was poor spending

We commended Gov. Tim Pawlenty recently for deciding Minnesota will accept upcoming funding from the federal stimulus package. Today, Pawlenty deserves some criticism for not walking his talk.

At a time when Pawlenty is criticizing the Legislature, counties, cities, K12 schools, colleges and the state judicial system for excessive spending and failing to change, we think it is time for the governor to look in the mirror.

The state deficit for the next biennium will likely exceed $6 billion. In addition, the state may have to cut $100 million or more before June 30 just to balance the 2009 budget, due to deeper revenue shortfalls in recent months.

Pawlenty sat in the Tribune offices Tuesday and criticized the state justice system for too much spending and not changing old practices that cost too much. He stated the judiciary system should utilize the Internet to communicate more inexpensively and that the system has to change.

The governor has criticized Minnesota cities for lobbying expenses, counties for salary raises, schools for not being fiscally efficient and colleges for tuition increases. He said they all must change more.

Certainly, one would think the governor would also be looking in the mirror for his own spending reforms.

Yet on Wednesday, the governor jumped in a state plane and flew around state -- stopping in Rochester, Mankato, Duluth and St. Paul for press conferences. Why? To announce that 60 state transportation projects will start this year, due to funding available from the federal stimulus package and Minnesota's 2008 transportation package.

We asked the governor's office Friday what the plane cost for Wednesday's trip was. Though we asked three times, his office did not tell us what the cost was. However, a spokesperson did state, "The governor takes serious the responsibility to be available to the whole state, not just the people inside the Capitol building." Sounds like a good PR answer, right?

We then asked the governor's office specifically what value Minnesota citizens gained from his PR trip around the state announcing the transportation projects. His office did not answer this question either.

Now, the governor does fly in a state turbo prop, which is not as costly as a business jet. Yet it still costs significant money plus the salaries of the crew, etc.

However, did Pawlenty's PR plane trip around around the state benefit Minnesota citizens?

In the age of video conferencing, we question the appropriateness of flying around the state to announce these transportation projects. This trip appears to be more of a PR trip to polish the governor's image. This PR trip is even more ironic considering that the state's 2008 transportation package, which helped fund the projects announced Wednesday, was passed over the governor's veto.

Pawlenty appears to be not following his critique, calling on state government entities to control their spending, become more efficient and make sure it is really needed.

The governor's PR trip this week reminds one of the big bank and auto company presidents flying private jets to Washington to lobby for bailout funding. They just do not get reality some days.

We agree that all government entities need to review their spending and operations in light of the state deficit. However, that applies to the governor as well.

Flying around the state for a PR trip to announce transportation projects does not pass the simple test -- Is this necessary for the betterment of the state's citizens? The answer is no.

Frankly, Pawlenty's PR flight Wednesday does not pass the political smell test either. This PR trip benefited the governor's image more than it did Minnesotans.

In reality, the governor's own action compared to his spending criticism of others recently looks simply hypocritical.