If you were born on 5/5/55, you turn 55 today.
1) The news gives us lots of opportunities to put ourselves in the position of others and ask, "What would I do in that situation?" Earlier this week, for example, we heard from the jogger who witnessed the shooting of a police officer, and got involved in summoning help.
Last evening's interview with Julie Pearce on All Things Considered is another example. The Duluth TV anchor, trained in nursing, knew she had to do something when the earthquake struck Haiti; more than just read into a camera and tell you about it. So she quit, and went to Haiti. She left the rest of us asking ourselves, "What would I do?"
"I've seen dead bodies line the street, seen babies born, watched babies die, held mothers who have lost their children, treated gunshot wounds and children hit by cars, watched children cry, helped children smile, been in several earthquakes, been scared to go to sleep, and grateful to see another day. I've seen the worst in people and the best in people."
2) Last summer, a Detroit columnist got it right when he said a tragedy in life is that Ernie Harwell never got a chance to sit on the porch on a summer night and listen to Ernie Harwell call a baseball game. Harwell died yesterday, leaving Vin Scully as the last great baseball announcer.
3) If you turn right at a red light today, think of Roy Schulz, who sponsored the legislation in the Minnesota House. Schulz, from Mankato, was a long-time lawmaker until his retirement in 1970. He died over the weekend.
The Mankato Free Press offers a tribute to him, along with a reminder that back in the day when the Minnesota legislative process worked, it was -- technically -- non-partisan.
Schulz was a Republican but the Legislature was technically nonpartisan throughout his tenure, so he was a member of the Conservative Caucus that held the majority. Searle remembers one of the most monumental battles coming when lawmakers wanted to pass the state's first sales tax despite the objections of Republican Gov. Harold LeVander.
Searle said the entire Conservative Caucus was invited to a meeting with LeVander the night before the vote, where he pleaded with them to not pass the sales tax and then threatened a veto when they weren't persuaded. They passed the bill, LeVander vetoed it and the conservatives recruited a pair of liberals to join them in overriding the veto in the House.
Fast-forwarding to May 5, 2010. The Minnesota House late last night passed a health and human services bill with $164 million in cuts, mostly to programs for the poor. They're wasting their time. Gov. Tim Pawlenty says he'll veto the bill and whack almost a half-billion dollars from the budget on his own. Can he do that? Yes, unless the Minnesota Supreme Court overturns his authority to do so. A ruling on that question could come tomorrow morning.
A bill providing public financing of a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings survived its first test yesterday.
5) The oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico will never work its way up the Mississippi, of course. But its impact will. Local farmers may be unable to ship crops throughout the world, the Winona Daily News reports.
Bonus: Your flash mob video of the day:
I believe the university president is in that group.
WHAT WE'RE DOING
Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) - First hour: Architect and author Sarah Susanka talks about how to remodel your home when money is tight and the space is small.
Second hour: Minnesota's famously short growing season begins and Rebecca Kolls has ideas for growing vegetables and managing your landscape.
Midday (11 a.m. - 1 p.m.) - First hour: GOP-endorsed gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer.
Second hour: John Heileman and Mark Halperin, authors of the best-selling book, "Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime."
Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) - First hour: Last year, Sen. Arlen Specter bolted the Republican Party. Now, he has to prove himself to Democrats in his home state. Joe Sestak, his opponent in the Pennsylvania primary this month, won't make that easy. They both join NPR political editor Ken Rudin.
Second hour: Meghan Daum has a house problem. For her, happiness was always just a new house away, and real estate was an obsession. Finally, she sunk her savings into
900 square feet of bungalow at the height of the housing boom.
All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) - Next year, the first wave of baby boomers turns 65. That will set into motion a demographic shift that will strain state and federal budgets for decades to come. In 10 years, one in six Minnesotans will be over the traditional retirement age. But some rural parts of the state are already there. Todd County, located an hour northwest of St. Cloud, is discovering the difficulty of caring for a growing elderly population with less state money to pay for services. MPR's Curtis Gilbert will have the story.
An ongoing study of prairie land in North Dakota and South Dakota shows some prairie birds appear to be affected by the presence of wind turbines while others are not. Researchers are also trying to determine if wind turbines will scare ducks away from prime nesting habitat. MPR's Dan Gunderson will report.(1 Comments)
The giant oil spill from the BP-leased oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico is apparently having no effect at BP's convenience stores.
The Associated Press reports a check of BP stations around the country shows no drop in gasoline sales or any indication that the brand has become "toxic."
BP spokesman David Nicholas said the company hasn't told gas stations to cut prices. He said he doesn't know if BP-branded stations had done so on their own. "But I'd find that highly surprising," he said.
No kidding. The per-gallon price of gas at BP stations in Minnesota ranges from $2.79 at one station (Le Suer) to $2.95 a gallon in the Twin Cities, according to minnesotagasprices.com.
The average statewide price of all gas stations is $2.93.
The Minnesota Supreme Court is releasing its decision in the case challenging Gov. Tim Pawlenty's authority to cut the state budget on his own. The case was argued in March.
10:05 a.m. - The Court says the unallotment was unlawful.
10:08 a.m. - Here's the decision. I'll be highlighting key points in a few minutes.
10:12 a.m. - Chief Justice Eric Magnuson wrote the decision, which must be a cruel blow to the Pawlenty administration. The governor appointed Magnuson to the position. He has announced his retirement after several years of feuding with the administration over court funding.
10:17 a.m. - The court did not address whether the governor's actions were unconstitutional. It said that it avoids constitutional decisions if there's another basis on which to rule in the case. That would certainly appear to invite more unallotment actions by the governor if the court's uneasiness with the other "basis" can be settled.
The inherent authority of the executive branch concerning actual spending decisions once appropriations are made is not, however, directly implicated in the issue we decide today, that is, whether Minnesota's unallotment statute was properly invoked in this case.
10:21 a.m. - The court hints that it might not be a bad idea for the Legislature to fix the law under which Pawlenty exerted his perceived authority:
Although the competing interpretations advanced by the parties are each reasonable, that fact simply brings into focus the failure of the statutory language to clearly answer two questions: (1) probable receipts anticipated when? and (2) amount available for what purpose? Because we determine the language of the unallotment statute is ambiguous, we must employ the canons of construction to determine what the Legislature intended by the language it used.
10:25 a.m. - The "money quote". Literally.
In the context of this limited constitutional grant of gubernatorial authority with regard to appropriations, we cannot conclude that the Legislature intended to authorize the executive branch to use the unallotment process to balance the budget for an entire biennium when balanced spending and revenue legislation has not been initially agreed upon by the Legislature and the Governor. Instead, we conclude that the Legislature intended the unallotment authority to serve the more narrow purpose of providing a mechanism by which the executive branch could address unanticipated deficits that occur after a balanced budget has previously been enacted.
10:26 a.m. - While not addressing the constitutionality of the governor's actions, it certainly portrays a constitutional question of whether unalloting items approved by the Legislature neuters the Legislature.
The unallotment authority so construed would result in an alternative budget-creation mechanism that bypasses the constitutionally prescribed process. There is nothing to suggest that was the purpose for which the unallotment statute was enacted
10:30 a.m. - So, here's the "perfect storm" for DFLers that gives them the "win" on this issue. They didn't balance the budget and the unallotment authority, the court said, is used to adjust unanticipated deficits:
The unallotment statute provides the executive branch with authority to address an unanticipated deficit that arises after the legislative and executive branches have enacted a balanced budget. The statute does not shift to the executive branch a broad budget-making authority allowing the executive branch to address a deficit that remains after a legislative session because the legislative and executive branches have not resolved their differences.
Which, presumably, means that if the Legislature had delivered a fully balanced budget, and there were no major disagreements, and then the deficit appeared, Gov. Pawlenty's actions could have been legal.
10:33 a.m. - Justice Alan Page takes on the constitutional question:
I write separately to highlight my concern that the unallotment statute confers on the executive branch such broad and uncircumscribed authority to rewrite legislative spending decisions that it may constitute an unlawful delegation of legislative authority in violation of the separation of powers principle in our constitution.
10:35 a.m. - It might not be a bad idea, Justice Page signals, for the Legislature to work on cleaning up the language of the process to avoid a constitutional question. Perhaps it could get fast-tracked as if it were a stadium bill. He didn't write that part. I did.
The lack of direction in the Minnesota statute about how unallotment authority may be exercised once it is triggered leaves the executive branch with virtually unfettered discretion to decide which funds to cut entirely, which to reduce in some measure, and which to leave fully funded. Such decisions inevitably change the legislative priorities established in the properly enacted appropriations laws, and the grant in subdivision 4 of section 16A.152 to the executive branch of broad and uncircumscribed authority to make such changes may run afoul of the separation of powers principle. Although we need not decide that issue today, the legislative and executive branches should be aware of that potential problem.
Rest assured, of course, that Minnesota Public Radio will be providing plenty of coverage of this during the day. In a few minutes, on MPR's Midday, state rep and gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer will appear. My guess is he'll have something to say about this decision.(8 Comments)
Let's drop in on Capitol insiders to see how the unallotment ruling is playing. I'll add to this through the early afternoon.
First up: Rep. John Lesch:
Really? Impeachment? That's the tone you want to set for the final two weeks of the legislative session when some big problems are facing the state?
Gov. Tim Pawlenty:
Over here, governor.(3 Comments)
MPR's Web site was down during Rep. Tom Emmer's appearance on Midday today (We're told it had something to do with Qwest). So many may have missed it between that and people running around on the unallotment story. So here's a recap of the GOP-endorsed gubernatorial candidate's appearance, without the pledge drive interruptions.
Q: Did you expect to win endorsement on the second ballot?
A: We expected three ballots. It was hard work.
Q: What's your reaction to the state Supreme Court ruling?
A: It puts the Democrats in a hot spot because they're the ones who are supposed to be leading, balancing the budget. We've got literally a week from Monday as the constitutional deadline. I haven't had a chance to read the decision. A couple of things that caught me quickly: It was a 3-3 decision. In effect they're reading timing issues into the statute that aren't there. We've got concerns about the judiciary when they read things into a statute that doesn't exist. Judge Gearan said at the beginning of her ruling, the unallotment statute is constitutional.
The bigger issue is: now what do we do? What is their solution?
Q: Would you recommend that the Legislature adopt the program that the governor instituted? Adopt the delays in the state-aid payments etc?
A: Tim Pawlenty has done a good job trying to hold the line. There's a lot of politics in this. There was a $6.4 billion deficit when we came into session in 2009, we worked on native earthworms, indigenous peepers and cocoa bean compost. There's a proposal I put in January 2009 called first-things-first. The governor would have the ability to declare a fiscal emergency and if it has been declared, the Legislature would have 45 days to put its balanced budget out on the table. Now you have everyone's cards out on the table and you can focus on those areas of disagreement for the rest of the session.
Q: Tom Horner said you're the most conservative candidate for governor ever. True?
A: I don't know. I'm just a guy from Delano. If conservative is just being consistent, I'm very consistent. People know best how to take care of themselves and should be given the opportunity to do that. We're mainstream Minnesota. Government ... there's a lot of duplication. There are priorities to be set. You have to put people back in charge of creating their own opportunities and that's not happening right now. The two issues that keep coming up around the state are taxes and regulation.
Q: Last week on Midday, you said you wanted to cut the state budget by a third. Still sticking with that?
A: What i said was we could do that. You have to listen to what people are telling you. There are a lot of people out on Main Street Minnesota who don't think government is listening. My answer to you last week, I think you can do that. You have to look at the entire amount we're spending, and not just the General Fund. We have a Department of Human Rights and an EEOC. They do the same thing.
Q: Does the government have any role to provide a safety net?
A: If you're a constitutional purist, that's not set forth in there. Article I says government will protect the citizens and their property, it says the government will provide an infrastructure, and it says the government will provide uniform education. But let's be realistic. What's happened in this country and in this state over many decades is the social safety nets that were originally provided by faith communities and community networks, more and more we became conditioned to believe the government was supposed to provide the safety nets. It's not that we're going to say "no' to these in the future, it's simply that we've seen that they're not sustainable in their current form. I think you have to start moving back to solutions that don't involve all-encompassing bureaucracies. MinnesotaCare was intended to be a health-care safety net for people who are between jobs. Rather than have a turn-key insurance program, we literally have taken into the program. We need to start looking at going to a private health care voucher system. We would still qualify for a certain level of benefits but we'd take that voucher and participate in the private health care insurance market with other Minnesotans.
Q: DFL leaders say there's no support, even among Republicans, for further local aid cuts. Is that true?
A: I would change the question and be more direct. I would ask "why are we talking about cuts?" Why don't we talk about the problem with it and why it's become a political football. LGA was created with the intent that it provide for the #1 function of government: that we'd have basic police and fire services throughout the state. Now, you've got only half the cities in the state get local government aid. And only a handful get the lion's share.
When I was on the Delano City Council, our general fund budget was about $2 million. I think Chisholm was close to that in local government aid. That's not the way it's supposed to work.
Q: Is there any circumstance where you would sign a statewide tax increase of any sort?
A: No, not under the circumstances we face. We've got to be able to go to the people and say it's not a problem of revenue. It's a problem of spending. Colorado, a state of similar population and size, is spending almost a third less than we are as a state. We've got to take a step back and say "why"?
Q: (Caller) I was a former criminal investigator for unemployment in Minnesota. What would you do as a candidate to return to the taxpayers of the state, all the six fraud investigator positions that have been eliminated?
A: This gets to the #1 priority of government: Protecting citizens and their property. We have other areas of fraud as well, and we've not been filling the positions internally. Agencies have been eliminating positions like yours.
Apparently our DNR is taking buses of metro women on camping trips. I think that's great, but it shouldn't be a priority of government.
Q: (Caller) Do we really need 855 cities in this state?
A: We may disagree on this. The problem isn't the number of cities or counties, but we've consistently pushed authority up from the most local level -- the individual -- up to the county, up to the state, and the state is collecting everything and sending mandates down. You need to get rid of those mandates and give more authority at the local level. It's really easy for someone in St. Paul to spend your money. It's a lot harder for the person you see in church or the grocery store.
Q: (Caller) We've become reliant on government but at the same time are you going to ask people if they're sure that's what they want? (Caller cited floods, hurricanes, health crises etc.)
A: We have become conditioned as a society to believe we go to government for help. But it's not sustainable. What you leave out of your statement is the fact that why is this happening? Why can't we sustain the safety nets? You can't sustain it because of something called wealth. The trailer that they're pulling is way overburdened. That ultimately is what creates wealth. You have to have jobs that allow people to improve their quality of life.
Q: Would Gov. Emmer kick grandma out of the nursing home?
A: No, this isn't about kicking grandma out of the nursing home. What Gov. Emmer would do is recognize that what the federal government created may not exist when our children are ready to access it.
Q: What makes a good governor?
A: A good leader is someone who can articulate where they need to be. Someone who is willing to stand up against strong public opinion that may lean a different way. It's somebody who can draw others to the message and help move it. It's not one person who's going to change anything.
We're at a crossroads and we can't afford to continue doing things as we've been doing them. It's time for a fresh, new view. We have to take control of our own future again.
Q: Is it going to be tough to get your message out this summer with the Democrats having a lively primary that will get media attention?
A: We have the benefit of reality and people are with us. The Emmers are just another family. We'll do it one handshake at a time. The truth has a wonderful way of coming to light.
Q: What about the people who tell you we need to raise taxes. Do you listen to them?
A: i do. But that's where leadership comes in. Everyone's got a program. We have plenty of revenue in this state if we're willing to set our priorities. Do I expect every person in Minnesota is going to agree? No. The question is who is going to be most credible over the next few months.(6 Comments)
With our Internet connectivity woes today, I've been unable until now to dive into the "other side" of the unallotment decision from the Minnesota Supreme Court. That is, the dissent filed by Justice Lorie Gildea. Like Chief Justice Magnuson, who wrote the decision, Gildea is an appointee of Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
Gildea, in her dissent, does everything but use the term "judicial activists" to describe the four justices who ruled against the governor.
The judiciary's duty is simply to apply the law as written by the legislature.The majority is unable to do so because the language the Legislature used in the unallotment statute leaves the majority with uncertainty and ambiguity. The majority therefore rewrites the statute to insert additional conditions, and then finds that the Commissioner of Minnesota Management and Budget (Commissioner) violated the statute because he did not comply with the conditions the majority has added.
Gildea says she did not find the law ambiguous, she also says she does not find Pawlenty's actions unconstitutional, an interesting distinction since the majority pointed out they weren't ruling on the constitutionality of the case.
Because I would hold that the executive branch complied with the plain language of the statute, and that respondents have not met their burden to prove that the statute is unconstitutional, I respectfully dissent
Justice Gildea points out that it wasn't until after the legislative session ended, that state finance officials reported the state budget was still $2.7 billion in the red for the biennium. She said because state officials found the budget deficit higher than the anticipated revenues, the power to "unallot" belonged to the governor.
Of course, it's worth pointing out, the financial wizards of the state had been wrong for many months, consistently underestimating the problems in the state budget. It's also worth noting that the governor first threatened unallotment (though not with the programs specifically mentioned in the court case) in December 2008. All the more reason, perhaps, why it might've been nice if the Supreme Court had considered the general constitutionality of the process. But it didn't, so let's move on...
Of course, all of this ignores a certain reality. The court case hinges on the timing of the actual unallotment. In reality, the Pawlenty administration had been using the threat of unallotment as a hammer for months. In reality, nobody was surprised that the governor did what he did. But a court challenge couldn't be mounted, apparently, except on the question of the timing of when the budget was sent to him, and when it was officially known that it wasn't balanced.
Respondents argue, and the district court held, that the Commissioner's unallotments violated the statute because the budget deficit was not ―previously unforeseen.‖ Respondents' argument is based on the fact that the budget deficit was known in February when the Commissioner prepared the forecast. Moreover, respondents contend that when the Governor signed appropriation legislation and vetoed revenue legislation, the Governor (and therefore the Commissioner) knew that the state would not have funds sufficient to satisfy the financial obligations in the appropriation legislation. Therefore, respondents argue, the budget deficit was not unanticipated.
Gildea comes down on the side that says the administration had all the power in this dispute:
Moreover, even if the judicial branch were inclined to wade into this dispute, it would be irrelevant in this case because there is nothing in section 16A.152 that limits the Commissioner's authority to unallot depending upon what or who is most responsible for the budget shortfall. The judiciary cannot rewrite the statute to add such restrictions.
Justice Gildea also turns the "separation of powers" argument on its head, noting that if Gov. Pawlenty has no power to unallot, then the budget power rests entirely with the Legislature.
Where one branch purports to perform completely a function assigned to one of the other branches, such encroachment violates the separation of powers principle... We have recognized that such encroachment into the judiciary's sphere of constitutional responsibility is unconstitutional. For example, where the Legislature purports to remove from the judiciary a class of cases that the constitution vests in the judiciary, the Legislature has violated the separation of powers doctrine.
She goes on to note that the Minnesota Constitution clearly delegates budgetary responsibilities to both the executive and legislative branch.
Because the function is one that the constitution commits to both branches, the unallotment statute--which simply acknowledges this joint responsibility--does not delegate pure legislative authority to the executive branch and it does not violate separation of powers. There are many instances in the operation of government, such as the prohibition against deficit spending, where the function at issue requires responsible effort from both of the political branches.
By the way, sometimes with unallotment, those affected get their money eventually. Not often, but it happens. Ethanol producers got a pile of cash in 2008 when the Legislature gave them money it took away in a previous budget crunch. That, Gildea points out, shows the Legislature retains budgetary power if it chooses to use it.
Finally, the Legislature, of course, remains free in the next legislative session to undo the unallotments as it has done in the past. The fact that the Legislature retains, and has exercised, the authority to undo the Commissioner's unallotments provides an important check on the Commissioner's exercise of discretion.
So what will this mean for the future? Here's one scenario: A government shutdown. Clearly, the Legislature did a poor job of playing "chicken" with a governor in the 2009 session, by sending him a budget and painting him into a corner. It could've simply done what it did in 2005, when it forced Pawlenty to consider a shutdown.
But there's political blood to be paid for such things and, besides, Gov. Pawlenty has shown over the years that he can make DFLers look impotent, even on matters of threatened shutdowns.
In any event, DFLers in the Legislature won a war today, and now have a very large battle to fight among themselves: How to turn their victory into a balanced budget.