Ruling Sets Up Budget Showdown in Minnesota
By John Gramlich, Staff Writer
A ruling Wednesday (May 5) by the Minnesota Supreme Court has the potential to rip a $2.7 billion hole in the state budget with just 11 days to go in the legislative session. It also sets up a showdown between the Democratic-led Legislature and Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty, who has vowed not to raise taxes.
By a vote of 4-to-3, the state's highest court ruled that Pawlenty exceeded his authority last year when — using a budget maneuver called "unallotment" — he unilaterally cut a state program for those with special dietary needs. The maneuver drew instant rebukes from Democrats in the Legislature at the time, and on Wednesday, the court ruled against the governor in an opinion written by one of Pawlenty's own appointees, his former law partner.
Although the ruling specifically addresses only the $5 million state nutrition program that Pawlenty cut, the governor used "unallotment" powers to cut an overall total of $2.7 billion last year. Those deep cuts now could be called into question because of the high court's opinion, according to the St. Paul Pioneer-Press . They include a $1.8 billion delay in aid for schools.
Democrats hailed the decision as an important check on the power of the governor, and the Minnesota Star-Tribune said it is " widely seen as one of the most significant rulings in state history ."
Pawlenty called a press conference in response to the ruling, where he said he was in contact with leaders in the Legislature about how to proceed. But he made clear that he expects lawmakers to go the way of cuts. "The solution here is not to raise taxes in a state that's already too highly taxed," said Pawlenty, who is considered a presidential contender in 2012. "The solution here is not to increase spending at a time when governments are spending too much."