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PoliGraph: Pawlenty tax claim doesn't tell the whole story

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This is the second in a series of fact checks this week reviewing the book of former Gov. Tim Pawlenty - Courage to Stand - as he tours the nation promoting it and exploring the possibility of a run for president.

Pawlenty frequently touts his record on taxes, so it's no surprise that he wrote about it in his new memoir, Courage to Stand.

On page 182, he writes: "Every Governor for decades had said it was important to get Minnesota at least out of the top 10 highest-taxed states. None of them ever did. I did."

Did he? Sort of. Outside a new fee on cigarettes, between 2003 and 2010 Pawlenty didn't raise state taxes - but he didn't lower them, either.

The Evidence

There are a lot of ways to slice and dice tax rankings, and in each case Minnesota fares differently when calculating the top 10 highest.

For instance, according to the Minnesota Department of Revenue, Minnesota has ranked 11th or above since 2004 in total state and local taxes. When it comes to the individual income tax, the same data show that Minnesota has remained well within the top 10 since 1995.

Meanwhile, the Tax Foundation, a national group that has been churning out tax rankings for years, has ranked Minnesota 11th, 12th and sometimes 17th in state and local taxes since 2000, the middle of former Gov. Jesse Ventura's administration. In some years, Minnesota fares even better according to rankings published by the Minnesota Taxpayers Association.

So, by at least a few measures, Minnesota is no longer one of the highest-taxed states in the nation. On this point, Pawlenty's correct.

The broader question is whether Pawlenty did anything to pull Minnesota out of the top 10, as he said he did.

Not exactly, say tax experts.

Former Republican Rep. Phil Krinkie, who chaired the House Taxes Committee in 2005-06 and now leads the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, pointed out that some tax tweaks occurred under Pawlenty's administration, but the most substantial changes happened during Ventura's tenure. For instance, in 1999 and 2000, the state cut income tax rates. In 2001, the general education fund levy was replaced with state aid.

Others, including Mark Haveman who is Executive Director of the Minnesota Taxpayers Association, say Pawlenty did not raise taxes while other states did to cover deficits. Minnesota, as a result, stayed clear of the top 10.

The Verdict

Saying precisely when Minnesota dropped out of the top 10 highest taxed states in the nation is hard to pin down because each ranking tells a different story. What is clear, however, is that the most significant tax cuts occurred under Ventura. Pawlenty, however, prevented taxes from going up while other states approved new revenue raisers.

Pawlenty's book implies his actions were the sole reason Minnesota dropped out of the top 10, but the Ventura administration played a major role. As a result, Pawlenty's claim is misleading.

- By Catharine Richert

SOURCES

State Rankings: State and Local Taxes, made using data from the Minnesota Department of Revenue found here, accessed Jan 19, 2011

State Rankings: State Taxes, made using data from the Minnesota Department of Revenue found here, accessed Jan 19, 2011

The Minnesota Department of Revenue, Frequently Asked Questions About Tax Rankings, accessed Jan. 20, 2011

The Tax Foundation, Minnesota's State and Local Tax Burden, 1977-2008, accessed Jan. 20, 2011

The Tax Foundation, State and Local Tax Burdens Dip as Income Growth Outpaces Tax Growth, by Gerald Prante, Aug. 7, 2008

The Minnesota House of Representatives, FAQ on Tax Rankings and Minnesota, January, 2008

The Minnesota Taxpayers Association, How Does Minnesota Compare?, July 2010

The Minnesota Budget Project, 1999 Minnesota Tax Cuts: How Much and for Whom?, accessed Jan. 20, 2010

The Minnesota Budget Project, Tax Changes in the 2000 Legislative Session, accessed Jan. 24, 2011

Interview, Alex Conant, spokesman for Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Jan. 20, 2011

Interview, Rep. Phil Krinkie, President, Taxpayers League of Minnesota, Jan. 20, 2011

Interview, Mark Haveman, Executive Director, Minnesota Taxpayers Association, Jan. 20, 2011

Interview, Nan Madden, Director, Minnesota Budget Projects, Jan. 20, 2011

Interview, Joel Michael, House Legislative Researcher, Jan. 24, 2011

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