Pawlenty's unallotment plan draws concern from lawmakersby Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — State lawmakers and interest groups are reacting to Gov. Pawlenty's plan to balance the budget on his own.
The governor announced Tuesday that he's using his emergency authority to cut spending for health and human services programs, aid to local governments, and higher education.
Critics of Pawlenty's plan say it will mean increased property taxes, fewer government services and job cuts.
The biggest part of the governor's plan to erase the state's 2.7 billion budget gap is a nearly $1.8 billion delay in payments to schools.
Second on the list is aid to local government. Pawlenty is proposing a cut of $300 million to cities, counties and townships over the next two years. Pawlenty said cities and counties should be able to absorb the cuts by cutting spending and avoiding tax increases.
"They need to get their head out of the clouds and get into the real economy and economic circumstances that is the worst economic crisis since World War II," Pawlenty said. "It's not business as usual."
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, a Democrat who is considering a run for governor, said city spending is growing at a slower rate than state spending.
"It's time for the governor to stop throwing bombs in and out of visits to primary states," Rybak said.
Rybak said Pawlenty, who isn't running for a third term, is more focused on his national ambitions than on finding a fair solution to the budget crisis.
"I think cities around the state and counties have done good work," he said. "Let's sit down at the table. Let's get some solutions. If he wants to stick around long enough to have a conversation, I'd love to do it, but Tim Pawlenty is increasingly seemingly not focused on Minnesota."
Pawlenty also cut $236 million in spending for health and human services programs. The cuts include speeding up the governor's plan to eliminate state health insurance for low-income adults without children.
Sue Abderholden, with the Minnesota Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said she's also concerned about Pawlenty's $40 million cut in grant funding for protection services for children and vulnerable adults and mental health services for kids.
"We're very concerned about what that will mean on the county level," Abderholden said. "While they still have the requirement to take care of these things, are they going to make it more difficult for children to get services?"
While some are expressing concern about the impact of the cuts, hospital officials are breathing a sigh of relief. They were warning that additional cuts could force them to cut back on important services.
Lawrence Massa, with the Minnesota Hospital Association, said Pawlenty spared them in his proposal.
"We haven't had a chance to really dig and do the analysis on the exact impact of the governor's unallotment decision, but it appears to be very minimal," Massa said.
Massa said it's unlikely that his organization will challenge Pawlenty's cuts in court - something he has suggested in the past.
However, Wadena Mayor Wayne Wolden said a lawsuit is still possible. Wolden, who heads the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, said the cuts will force cities to raise property taxes and cut services, and he's concerned about Pawlenty's unilateral action.
"We're dealing with a governor here who vetoed some bills to put this back in his hands and be able to balance the state budget himself," Wolden said. "What do we have a Legislature for? That's what they are for and they need to given the opportunity to work through this whole process."
Several DFL officials want Pawlenty to call lawmakers back for a special session. Pawlenty has said lawmakers had five months to get their work done and failed.
Eliot Seide, with the state employee union, AFSCME Council 5, said he's concerned that Pawlenty's plan will result in job losses for government workers.
"We think that this means layoffs for state workers, for county workers, for city workers, for school employees [and] for health care workers across the state," Seide said. "We still think that this budget probably has 3,400 job cuts in it."
By law, Pawlenty can't formally make the cuts until the fiscal year begins on July 1. He said he intends to work with state lawmakers and others before the cuts become official. Lawmakers have scheduled a Thursday hearing to discuss the impact of the cuts.
- Morning Edition, 06/17/2009, 7:20 a.m.