Pawlenty appeals unallotment ruling
ST. PAUL -- Gov. Tim Pawlenty tells the Minnesota Supreme Court that he and his commissioners followed state law and the constitution when he unilaterally cut state programs last summer.
In late December, a court ruled Pawlenty made those cuts unconstitutionally.
In a late afternoon filing today, Pawlenty says that he met all three requirements to take the action without legislative approval:
-- Probable state receipts would be less than expected.
-- The amount of money available for the rest of the two-year budget would be less than needed.
-- There is no money in a state reserve account.
With the filing, Pawlenty put into action what is expected to be a rapid state Supreme Court process to decide the case.
"More than 70 years ago the Legislature granted Minnesota governors the authority to unallot and the district court's decision misinterpreted that law in key respects," Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said. "We hope the Minnesota Supreme Court will more clearly and directly address this issue."
Pawlenty's attorneys and those from the attorney general's office laid out a point-by-point case that they say proves the governor and commissioners followed the letter of the law when he chopped programs.
Specifically, the issue is whether the governor had the authority to eliminate a $5.3 million program to fund special medially needed diets to thousands of Minnesotans.
Also in question is a program that refunds some money to renters.
A Ramsey County judge late last month issued a temporary restraining order that required the Pawlenty administration to continue to pay for the diet program. She did not address the rent refund.
Pawlenty immediately said he would appeal the ruling, and in the past two weeks those bringing the suit agreed with the administration to ask Supreme Court justices to speed the case through the process.
Legislators, lobbyists and those getting state aid for many uses -- from cities to welfare recipients -- will await the high court's decision.
While the appealed case deals with just a couple of narrow programs, a ruling could affect much of the other $2.7 billion Pawlenty cut from the $30 billion, two-year budget.
Pawlenty cut's cuts included $1.8 billion in delaying state payments to public schools, $300 million in smaller state payments to local governments, $236 million in trimming state agencies and $100 million spending for state colleges and universities.
If the justices say Pawlenty was wrong, others may join in the lawsuit seeking to have their funds restored.
However, some wonder what good a suit would go.
"If you win, what do you win?" Gary Carlson of the League of Minnesota Cities asked after the initial court ruling.
Carlson said with current budget problems, cuts will have to be made, so even if the court restores cuts, Pawlenty and legislators need to make new cuts later this year.
Earlier, Pawlenty said the ruling by Ramsey County Judge Kathleen Gearin may mean little to the current budget. "The practical effect of this, I don't think will be significant."
Democrats who control the Legislature agree that cuts must be made to programs so the budget can be balanced, but many of them hope for some tax increases to help save some programs. Pawlenty refuses to consider a tax increase.
Gearin said Pawlenty overstepped his authority. She said state law allows him to make cuts in unexpected economic situations, but in this case he knew fiscal problems existed while the Legislature remained in session and he and lawmakers were preparing the new budget.
The "unallotment" law usually has been implemented near the end of a budget when revenues failed to meet expectations. In this case, Pawlenty made the cuts as the two-year budget began.
Gearin said that Pawlenty's actions removed the Legislature from its constitutional role of appropriating money.