Pawlenty ready to go it alone on budgetby Tim Pugmire, Minnesota Public Radio
Gov. Tim Pawlenty says he'll move quickly to close a lingering $2.7 billion budget gap through a mix of spending cuts and delayed state payments.
St. Paul, Minn. — A day after the legislative session ended without a negotiated agreement, Gov. Pawlenty said he is proceeding with a go-it-alone strategy to balance the books.
But Democrats say the Republican governor might be exceeding his executive authority, and the results could be disastrous.
Pawlenty said he'll finish the job of balancing the state budget in the coming weeks, using his emergency authority known as unallotment.
He began laying the groundwork for those unilateral spending cuts during a morning cabinet meeting. Another meeting is scheduled later in the week.
Pawlenty said he wants to be ready to start cutting on July 1, when the new two-year budget period begins.
"We will not drag out this process, but we will undertake this decision-making in a quick and careful and thoughtful manner," said Pawlenty. "These are serious decisions. They require serious deliberations. And we're going to give them all of our effort and energy and attention to make sure that they're done in a proper way and an effective way."
Pawlenty said the sky won't fall if the state budget shrinks. There aren't many details about what the governor has in mind, except that he's looking at all budget areas.
Pawlenty has mentioned delayed payments to school districts. And his targets for spending cuts include aid to cites and counties, health care and higher education. He also added welfare benefits to the list.
"There's increasing concern about people coming from other parts of the country for our welfare system here. And they're not coming for the weather," said Pawlenty. "They're coming because we have one of the most generous welfare systems in the country. That can probably be trimmed back a bit, and probably should be."
Pawlenty is asking Minnesotans to send him budget-cutting suggestions, and said he hasn't ruled out consulting with the same legislators he's been butting heads with.
Earlier in the day, DFL House and Senate leaders flew around the state to talk about the legislative session. Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller of Minneapolis offered some unallotment advice to the governor.
"We should have no cuts in funding that create additional job losses. And we should have no cuts in funding that damage the basic social safety net. And we should not have cuts that force class sizes up," said Pogemiller. "Those are the three areas we would think are important."
Democrats are raising concerns about the results of Pawlenty's spending cuts -- and about the process.
The governor insists that he's on firm legal ground in using his unallotment authority. But Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, isn't so sure.
"The unallotment statute says that the governor can unallot when there is an unanticipated decline in revenue," said Winkler. "Assuming that the governor continues his plan to veto the balanced budget that we sent him, that won't be an unanticipated shortfall in revenue. That will be a decisive, planned shortfall in revenue. And I think there's a real question of whether the unallotment statute could be pushed that far."
Winkler says the Legislature wouldn't have standing to take legal action, but he says the schools, hospitals and nursing homes stung by deep cuts might be considering their options.
City officials have been sounding the unallotment alarm all week. Wayne Wolden, president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, says additional cuts in state aid and credits will increase local property taxes, and put police and fire protection in jeopardy.
"We're just going to have to march on St. Paul. We're going to have to bring the outcry that we're hearing in main street communities from Ely to Edina in saying that Local Government Aid, Market Value Credit are important," said Wolden. "It is a distribution of basic service revenue, to be able to offer basic services around the state."
Gov. Pawlenty said he plans to work on unallotment details in a meeting with his key commissioners on Thursday.
- All Things Considered, 05/19/2009, 5:20 p.m.