Tim Pawlenty's unallotment appeal tossed by state Supreme Court

In a ruling that could suddenly pitch Minnesota into the uncharted territory of a $3.4 billion deficit, the Minnesota Supreme Court today said that Gov. Tim Pawlenty went above his authority by trying to use unallotment to unilaterally cut $5.3 million from a state program.

Pawlenty's reaction: "I strongly disagree."

Ramsey County District Court Judge Kathleen Gearin ruled in January that Pawlenty abused his power when he cut the funding of a program that aids low income Minnesotans with diet issues. The cut was part of $2.7 billion that Pawlenty sliced out of the state's budget for the coming fiscal year using the unallotment rule.

She ordered the program's funding to be restored, and in the process threw Pawlenty's budget-balancing tactic into legal limbo.

"The authority of the governor to unallot is an authority intended to save the state in times of a previously unforeseen budget crisis," Gearin ruled. "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 state Supreme Court upheld that decision. The ruling was authored by Chief Justice Eric Magnuson, a Pawlenty appointee who recently announced his retirement:

In the context of this limited constitutional grant of gubernatorial authority with regard to appropriations, we cannot conclude that the Legislature intended to authorize the executive branch to use the unallotment process to balance the budget for an entire biennium when balanced spending and revenue legislation has not been initially agreed upon by the Legislature and the Governor. Instead, we conclude that the Legislature intended the unallotment authority to serve the more narrow purpose of providing a mechanism by which the executive branch could address unanticipated deficits that occur after a balanced budget has previously been enacted.

Pawlenty's official reaction:

"I strongly disagree with this 4-3 decision by the court. Nonetheless it will require the legislature and my administration to address its budget impacts. The funds do not exist to reinstate my unallotments and the state budget needs to be balanced without raising taxes. I call upon the DFL-controlled legislature to ratify the unallotments I enacted last year. I will fight to reduce spending and taxes in Minnesota and that battle continues. My commitment to the people of Minnesota remains the same: we will balance the budget without raising taxes."

Read the full ruling here.

Watch Pawlenty's reaction here:

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