First, questions not asked: Whose budget got hit, when Gov. Pawlenty diverted money from the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs (MDVA) to partially pay the salary of Lee Buckley, Special Advisor in the Governor’s Council on Faith and Community Service Initiatives (FCSI)? Lee Buckley is no longer drawing a check from FCSI; she’s now at the Dep’t of Corrections – and there is still a diversion of funds from MDVA (see below the fold), so: where is THAT money, and how is it being spent?

Second, playing the pawns. It was obvious to me that some Veterans at the hearing were more interested in carrying Gov. Pawlenty’s political water, than ensuring open and transparent governmental operations. For instance, Jerry Kyser, Former Chair and current Vice Chair of United Veterans Legislative Council of Minnesota, in a conversation at the hearing and in a followup phone conversation, made it quite clear that as an organization, UVLC wanted to kill the proposed legislation, and personally – and I quote – Jerry “detests” everything about President Obama’s “socialistic” agenda. And clearly, many veterans were mobilized for the hearing, with defending Gov. Pawlenty’s actions as a goal. From Tim Pugmire at Minnesota Public Radio:

Veterans fight back over funding criticism
by Tim Pugmire, Minnesota Public Radio
March 18, 2010

St. Paul, Minn. — Military veterans are strongly defending Gov. Pawlenty’s use of the Support Our Troops license plate fund to pay the salary of one of his office staffers.

During a state Senate hearing Thursday, several veterans said the interagency transfer was appropriate, and they instead criticized legislators for raising questions about the arrangement. (more, at Minnesota Public Radio)

But, not all. One comment I heard several times was that with the fact that Gov. Pawlenty is using hundreds of Inter-Agency Agreements totalling hundreds of thousands of dollars to shift funds the way he sees fit, why was a $30k shift in Veterans funding being singled out?

After the hearing, I called the Minnesota Disabled American Veterans (MnDAV) and talked to the Adjutant, Jeff Alger (disclosure – I’m a Member of the MnDAV). Adjutant Alger wanted to be clear that the MnDAV was most concerned that the media publicity might negatively affect sales of the “Support Our Troops” license plates, which could negatively affect revenue to support veterans. Adjutant Alger stated the MnDAV had no issue with how the funds transferred were used and took no position on Inter-Agency in general. I asked if Adjutant Alger knew if any Agency/Organization’s budget took a hit; Adjutant Alger said he didn’t know. I asked if the MnDAV would have a concern if the transfer had caused the MnDAV to receive less; Adjutant Alger said that would be a great concern (see the first question, above).

Now, on to shell games, as played by Gov. Pawlenty, with the details of the Hearing:

The Senate Finance Committee heard testimony from several state employees yesterday, including Legislative Auditor James Nobles, Department of Veterans Affairs Deputy Commissioner Michael Pugliese, and the specific Political Appointee in question – Ms. Lee Buckley – formerly a “special advisor” to the governor, and now with the Department of Corrections.

The discussion focused on the funds generated for the Department of Veterans Affairs by the “Support Our Troops” license plates.

This revenue is also shared with the Minnesota Department of Military Affairs as established by the legislation that created the new plates in 2005.

Senator Jim Vickerman (DFL-Tracy, chair of the Senate Finance Committee for Agriculture and Veterans), said the program is the most successful of the special license plate programs, and has raised nearly a million dollars in almost five years. Each Minnesotan that buys the plates pays a minimum annual fee of $30.00.

Deputy Commissioner Pugliese staunchly defended his decision to use $30,000 of the funds last year to support the part-time work of Lee Buckley, hired by the governor to serve as his Faith & Community special advisor in 2005. Pugliese praised her work and said he would “do it again in a minute.”

The veterans in the room expressed support for Ms. Buckley’s good works, and concern that the revenue could decrease from the plate sales if people have the perception that the funds are not well managed.

While the committee handouts showed how the use of Inter-Agency Agreements to provide staffing for the office of the governor has increased under Governor Pawlenty compared with Governor Ventura, there were no charts to show how the funds generated by the Support Our Troops plates are actually used. The committee focus was on what a great investment the $30K invested in Ms. Buckley’s 2009 salary was, and not in how the other $900 million generated since 2005 was allocated.

While the room was indeed full of veterans whose hats and insignia showing them as members of the VFW, Legion, DAV, Military Order of the Purple Heart, county veterans services offices, and other organizations, the 500 pound gorilla was actually missing.

The heavyweight in receiving funds and delivering services to veterans could actually be Lutheran Social Services (LSS), which has a contractual agreement to provide services to Minnesota’s veterans via a program called CORE. This program is detailed on the LINKVET website of MNDVA.

LSS has been providing social services in Minnesota for over 100 years, and has at least 11 locations throughout the state, so can provide direct services to veterans and military families much more efficiently than one person working out of the governor’s St. Paul office. LSS can provide assistance to family members, like parents, that are not provided for with programs from the federal department of Veterans Affairs. Veteran Nancy Gertner wrote about LSS last year, on MinnPost.com.

That’s the hearing, which focused mainly in the micro – one shift out of hundreds, $30k out of hundreds of thousands.

Let’s watch Senator Don Betzold (DFL-Fridley) discuss the escalation of Inter-Agency Agreements during the Pawlenty Administration, which really IS the macro of the issue – openness, and accountability:

It seems as if the focus on the micro, is distracting from the macro – the growth of Inter-Agency Agreements (shell games) during the Pawlenty Administration.

During the Ventura Administration, these shell games were played 37 times in Fiscal Year 1999, for a total of $37,000. In FY 2010, these shell games were played by Gov. Pawlenty 675 times, for a total of $702,000. In FY 2010, Gov. Pawlenty pulled out of just one Agency, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the same amount Gov. Ventura pulled out of ALL Agencies – $37k.

Sadly, the focus on the micro, has distracted from the macro – Gov. Pawlenty’s shell games.

More, later. In the meantime, here’s the breakdown of Gov. Pawlenty’s FY2010 shell games:

Interagency Agreements
July 1, 2009 – June 30 2010
Amounts Paid by Agencies to the Office of the Governor

Administration……………………………………………………………………..$72,000
Agriculture………………………………………………………………………….$20,000
Commerce……………………………………………………………….…………$35,000
Corrections…………………………………………………………………………$30,000
Education…………………………………………………………………………..$30,000
DEED………………………………………………………………………………$45,000
OET…………………………………………………………………………………$10,000
Health………………………………………………………………………………$32,500
Higher Education………………………………………………….…………….…$20,000
MN Housing Finance………………………………………………………………$12,000
Human Services…………………………………………………………………..$137,500
Labor & Industry.…………………………………………………………………..$20,000
Metropolitan Council………………………………………………………………$27,500
Military Affairs………………………………………………………………………$7,000
MMB………………………………………………………….……………………$19,000
DNR………………………………………………………………………………..$26,500
Pollution Control……………………………………………………………………$24,000
Public Safety………………………………………….……………………………$26,500
Revenue……………………………………………….……………………………$19,000
Transportation………………………………………………………………………$51,500
Veterans Affairs……………………………………………………………………$37,000
TOTAL – ALL AGENCIES $702,000

(cross posted from MnProgressiveProject; comments welcome there)

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