Gov. Tim Pawlenty acted unilaterally -- and controversially -- last year when he bypassed state legislators and balanced the state's books by wielding his unallotment pen to cut $2.7 billion out of the state budget for the coming fiscal year.
Now he's looking for a friend in the court system, after Ramsey County District Court Kathleen Gearin ruled two weeks ago that Pawlenty abused his authority in the way he applied the unallotment rule.
Pawlenty's appealing Gearin's decision directly to the Minnesota Supreme Court. In the event that gambit fails, he has also asked the state Court of Appeals court to be ready for a quick consideration.
"The authority of the governor to unallot is an authority intended to save the state in times of a previously unforeseen budget crisis," Gearin wrote in the case. "It is not meant to be used as a weapon by the executive branch to break a stalemate in budget negotiations with the Legislature or to rewrite the appropriations bill."
The Star Tribune carried this statement from Brian McClung, Pawlenty's chief of staff:
"More than 70 years ago the Legislature granted Minnesota governors the authority to unallot and the district court's decision misinterpreted that law in key respects."
On Monday, Gearin dismissed a lawsuit brought by Robert Carney, who argued that the governor had no constitutional authority to eliminate a tax credit program that refunds political contributions. She dismissed that lawsuit because it sought redress from a specific cut, rather than challenging the constitutionality of the way in which Pawlenty used unallotment.
If he loses the court battle, the state's fiscal picture is going to be thrown into chaos, and Pawlenty will have to work with the DFL-controlled Legislature to cut the $2.7 billion the old fashioned way, with negotiations.
Legislators had already planned to return to St. Paul on Feb. 4 to face a $1.2 billion shortfall.