On Monday, Tim Pawlenty announced his run as a Republican candidate for President. Most people, Republicans included, have not heard of him. But those of us in the product stewardship community know him well. He’s the guy who, as the former Governor of Minnesota, vetoed paint stewardship legislation that was passed nearly unanimously by the Minnesota Legislature and had the full support of the paint industry, retailers, painting contractors, federal, state, and local government agencies, environmental groups, and other stakeholders. In fact, the only ones in the state opposed to this unique public/private partnership were a handful of Republican legislators and the Governor. So sure of his action in 2008, Governor Pawlenty again vetoed the same legislation in 2009, with the same near unanimous support, setting the national Paint Product Stewardship Initiative back about 18 months.
Governor Pawlenty’s veto letter states that he was protecting taxpayers from paying twice – once through the current government-run taxpayer funded system that collects and manages leftover paint in Minnesota and the other through a proposed paint fee that would have been paid by a consumer of new paint if the bill was passed into law. On the surface, this logic seems sound. Unfortunately, it doesn’t hold up.
For starters, the current government-run system has failed to divert more than a small amount of the estimated 1.3 millions of gallons of leftover paint generated each year in Minnesota. What is not diverted for recycling is disposed of in landfills and incinerators. If the system worked fine, hundreds of stakeholders would not have spent the last eight years working together with the Product Stewardship Institute to find a much needed solution to paint waste, a nationwide problem that would cost local governments well over half a billion dollars each year if all leftover paint was managed properly. Minnesota was chosen as the pilot state for this historic project. Unfortunately, Governor Pawlenty was oblivious to what was taking place right in front of his eyes.
Governor Pawlenty also failed to acknowledge that liquid paint creates pollution and operational problems for disposal facilities. Who wants to burn liquid paint or bury it in a landfill? Not the businesses that run those facilities. And who wants to dry out latex paint until it is hardened for disposal? Not the average person. In addition, not collecting leftover paint represents wasted resources that could be used to make new paint and other paint products. By vetoing the paint bill, Pawlenty delayed the growth of Minnesota-based Amazon Environmental, a long-time recycled paint manufacturer. After missing his own opportunity to support this home-grown business, Pawlenty can now only watch as the passage of similar bills in Oregon, California, and Connecticut bolsters Amazon’s growth.
Governor Pawlenty’s argument is further flawed by ignoring the financial strain faced by the cities and towns in Minnesota that looked to him for leadership. To reduce paint pollution and take advantage of the business opportunities created by millions of gallons of high-quality, usable, and available leftover paint generated in the state, Pawlenty would have had to raise additional taxes to improve the government paint management programs for which he was responsible, a cost totaling about $10.5 million each year. Instead, Pawlenty chose to ignore the problem and the solution.
Finally, Governor Pawlenty’s veto wasted a golden opportunity for Minnesota taxpayers to be provided with good government by allowing a willing and able paint industry to accept the responsibility of managing a societal problem and removing the burden from an ailing and less efficient government. The American Coatings Association, representing nearly every paint manufacturer in the United States, including Sherwin Williams, Valspar, ICI, and Benjamin Moore, led the effort to pass legislation. They desperately wanted Governor Pawlenty to support the bill that he vetoed. Why would a die-hard private sector guy want to keep using taxpayer dollars to fund an inefficient, ineffective government program when the private sector is ready to take it on?
The answer is simple – Ideology.
But beyond the missed opportunities that Pawlenty displayed with his two vetoes, one additional miscalculation stands out – his lack of faith that everyday citizens don’t have the common sense to be willing to pay to keep their air, water, and land clean and healthy, and protect their resources from being wasted. This cynicism is what troubles me most about Pawlenty’s vetoes. We now have the evidence in Oregon, where the same legislation rejected by Pawlenty was accepted with open arms by Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski, both Democratic and Republican Oregon legislators, and the people of Oregon. Not only does the public accept the extra recycling cost of 75 cents per new gallon of paint sold, but the sale of Metro Paint’s recycled paint has gone sky high. In fact, Miller Paint, a virgin paint manufacturer, has agreed to market Metro’s paint, seeing it as a unique business opportunity.
Governor Pawlenty’s veto shows us why his ideology is bad for this country. And this brand of ideology is bad for the environment and business. So the next time someone asks you if you know Tim Pawlenty, let them know what we know. And make sure he gets nowhere near the top job for the country.
Contact: Scott Cassel, Executive Director/Founder, Product Stewardship Institute, (617) 236-4822, firstname.lastname@example.org.