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In a meeting that crackled with tension, legislative leaders actively challenged Gov. Tim Pawlenty's unilateral actions to balance the state budget, with Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller at one point suggesting that commissioners prepare legal memos because "you'll need them."
Pogemiller, who had not spoken publicly on Pawlenty's specific proposals to single-handedly eliminate a $2.7 billion deficit, said Thursday that the governor "absolutely does not have the authority" to enact some of the payment delays and other accounting changes that are a large part of his plan.
"If the executive branch can start doing things like this, whoa," Pogemiller said in a packed hearing room that included individuals waving signs that said "This is not a monarchy" and "Pray for those with the authority to unallot."
Since Pawlenty first released his package of more than $700 million in budget unallotments and $1.8 billion in bookkeeping shifts and other changes, many have wondered whether anyone would go so far as to take Pawlenty to court and challenge his authority.
On Thursday, DFL legislators said that while they were raising strong disagreements with the Republican governor's actions, they were not preparing such a challenge, although Pogemiller appeared to leave a door open with his vigorously worded dissensions, repeated requests for legal memos and an assertion that he may need to seek an attorney general's opinion at some point.
Management and Budget Commissioner Tom Hanson said his staff has thoroughly researched the issues and "we're confident -- very confident -- that we have the authority to do everything we're doing."
Thursday's meeting was of the Legislative Advisory Commission, a panel that the governor must consult about unallotment but which does not have the power to block him.
During the often rigorous questioning, commissioners did acknowledge some hard consequences that will flow from Pawlenty's actions, which involve the two-year budget period that begins July 1. The cuts likely will trigger the loss of at least 3,000 jobs and could cause property taxes to rise by as much as $228 million over the next two years. On that last point, Revenue Commissioner Ward Einess said that while that was the figure allowed, "the political and economic reality is that is not a viable option." That could mean the further loss of services and jobs instead as cities and counties struggle to balance their books.
Senate Taxes Chairman Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, pointed out that while Pawlenty had characterized the cuts to cities and counties as 3.5 percent of aid plus levy revenues, for cities more dependent on such aid, the two-year state aid reduction was closer to 15 percent.
From 2002, when Pawlenty was elected, to 2010, said House Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, property taxes had risen steadily from $4.5 billion to $8.1 billion. House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, called that "a terrible, terrible commentary on where we're going."
DFLers did little to offer alternatives, although Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisolm, said Pawlenty should consider delaying his actions until the November economic forecast, on the chance the economy had started to rebound. Hanson has said that a delay could result in even larger cuts in a more compressed period of time.
"This whole thing doesn't pass the smell test," Tomassoni said, of Pawlenty's proposal. "This deficit was created by the governor's veto. It's a giant shell game."
Patricia Lopez • 651-222-1288