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Pawlenty begins cutting budget himself

ST. PAUL -- Gov. Tim Pawlenty has started his quest to cut billions of dollars from state government spending if budget negotiations fail in the legislative session's final four days.

While saying he remains open to compromise with DFL leaders, the Republican governor said he will use his line-item veto power and other authority to set a new state budget if the Legislature won't work with him "on a reasonable budget solution."

"This year, politics as usual around this place is over," Pawlenty declared in a late Thursday afternoon announcement. "There will be no special session. There will be no government shutdown. And there will be a budget that lives within the means of Minnesota's taxpayers and the revenues available to the state of Minnesota."

Pawlenty said he will trim the budget two ways:

- Line-item veto items out of budget bills lawmakers already have sent to him. That authority is limited to just some budget items.

- After the partial vetoes, he will unallot. That is a legal way to unilaterally reduce spending to match revenues, a procedure designed to balance a budget in changing economic times.

Bills lawmakers passed would spend $34 billion in the next two years, but just $31 billion in revenue is expected without new revenues.

House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, called Pawlenty a bully for his actions. She said Pawlenty's plan would cut 10 times more money from the budget than any other governor. And, she added, Pawlenty will have used unallotment three of the five times it was been used in state history.

Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, said he expects Pawlenty to change his tune. "I assume as the governor of the state he will calm down and get his wits about himself."

In a tense evening meeting, Kelliher told Commissioner Tom Hanson of Minnesota Management and Budget that Minnesotans deserve to know what Pawlenty will cut. Hanson said the exact cuts still are being considered and "in the days to come we can share more detail."

Kelliher responded: "I think it would be good to have details within the next 24 hours, otherwise it would appear ... the governor is going it alone."

Hanson and Pawlenty criticized the Legislature for passing a budget with a $3 billion funding shortage.

Pawlenty refused to tell reporters precisely what he will cut, but did say local aid payments will be cut or delayed. The governor promised to give local governments advance notice before the cuts become effective July 1.

He said he will sign every budget bill legislators passed, although he will cut what he can with his line-item veto power. Then he will take a new look at the budget and use his unallotment power to make further cuts down to the $31 billion "and change" level, he said.

The biggest problem has been a disagreement between Pawlenty and Democrats over tax increases. The House voted for a $1.5 billion tax increase, upping a variety of taxes, while senators focused on raising income taxes $2.2 billion.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.