Pawlenty's unallotment gambit on trial today before MN Supreme Court

Minnesota Supreme Court justices heard today from a Legal Aid attorney who claims the governor didn't follow the law when he unilaterally cut funding for social services to the poor as part of his budget fix.

Last summer, Gov. Tim Pawlenty shifted $2.7 billion from the budget to patch a growing hole in state funding. Galen Robinson, a lawyer for Legal Aid, sued the governor and the state on behalf of six clients who saw funding for their special diet program eliminated. Robinson won the case, and the governor has now appealed to the state's highest court--skipping the appeals process.

Robinson is arguing that the governor violated the state constitution last year when he approved certain legislation, and then vetoed a tax that would have paid for them.

The justices this morning asked probing questions of Robinson, forcing both him and the governor's attorney to focus on very specific issues that would support their contradicting interpretations of Minnesota law. Minnesota Public Radio broadcast the 90-minute session live; you can see their summary here. But here's a little bit of the flavor of what they said, reported by MPR:

"What the governor is supposed to do is faithfully execute the laws. Those are the laws as they emerge from the Legislature," Robinson argued. "For the executive to choose to fund some but not others violates the intent of the legislation."

But in defending Pawlenty, state Solicitor General Alan Gilbert framed the case as a political dispute that some are trying to turn into a legal dispute.

"The question is what do we do with the aftermath," Gilbert said. "The electorate is in a position to decide what to do with respect to the political decisions that have been made."

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