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Pawlenty's unallotment decision coming Tuesday

ST. PAUL - Tuesday is the day Minnesotans find out where Gov. Tim Pawlenty will cut the state budget.

Pawlenty and Commissioner Tom Hanson of Minnesota Management and Budget scheduled a 2 p.m. news conference to announce cuts to the state's two-year budget that begins July 1.

The Republican governor already has said he plans to cut state aid paid to local governments, will reduce some higher education money and will cut back on health and human services programs. He has refused to give details, but promised that small cities will be spared the budget ax.

A Pawlenty budget plan would have cut local government aid, money paid to cities, by what he says is no more than 5 percent of the total property-tax-plus-state-aid funding. But city leaders say that would come on top of earlier cuts, including ones last year that came days before cities were expecting state checks.

City leaders have been among the most outspoken opponents of Pawlenty unilaterally cutting the budget.

Another way he likely will balance the budget, Pawlenty has said, is to delay payments made to schools to the next budget cycle.

One factor that Pawlenty mentioned is that many of the cuts probably will come in the second year of the two-year budget, giving him and lawmakers time to make changes when the Legislature meets early next year.

The need for Pawlenty to make cuts comes after he and legislative leaders failed to reach an overall budget deal before lawmakers adjourned for the year last month. While he signed all the major budget bills, he rejected a tax increase plan forwarded by Democratic-Farmer-Laborites, meaning the state's spending fell $2.7 billion short of revenue.

He is invoking a law allowing him to "unallot" money already appropriated. The law was designed to give the governor a chance to balance the books near the end of a fiscal cycle when revenues fall below expectations. It rarely has been used.

A governor can cut spending, but cannot increase revenue. In any case, Pawlenty has steadfastly refused to accept any state tax increases.

Assistant Senate Majority Leader Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud, called Pawlenty a "rogue governor" by deciding to make cuts on his own instead of negotiating with Democratic legislative leaders. Democrats control both chambers of the Legislature.

"Pawlenty refused meaningful negotiations, made impossible demands for clearly imprudent accounting stunts like borrowing to pay ongoing expenses and vetoed reasonable attempts by the Legislature to make cuts and increase revenue," she said.

But Pawlenty may face more than Democratic rhetoric once he makes his unallotment decisions. Several interest groups are looking into lawsuits over his actions; Pawlenty himself has said he would not be surprised if he were sued.

Pawlenty says the public is behind his decision to unallot.

"The No. 1 response I get as I've been around Minnesota, at least the last few days, anecdotally is: 'Thank goodness we're not having a stupid special session, thank goodness we're not having a stupid (government) shutdown and thank you, governor, for taking the bull by the horns and getting this thing dealt with,'" he said soon after the legislative session ended on May 18.

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.