Gov. Tim Pawlenty Tuesday called on the Legislature to finish the 2010 session's budget-balancing work his way -- or face another round of the one-man budget cuts known as unallotment. A sequel to the unsatisfying conclusion of the 2009 legislative session could be in the offing.
A reporter asked: Is unallotment an option, if the Legislature does not comply with his demand that the remaining $536 million budget deficit in fiscal 2011 be closed solely with the spending cuts he recommends? "Certainly," was Pawlenty's reply. That's so despite the fact that his 2009 solo budgeting act is the subject of a lawsuit questioning the constitutionality of his use of unallotment authority. A ruling from the state Supreme Court on the suit is expected this month.
Pawlenty's message to the Legislature demonstrated why court action is needed on that suit, and soon. As long as a governor has what Pawlenty has interpreted as virtually unlimited power to cut state spending on his own when the budget is not balanced, he or she has little incentive to negotiate seriously with the Legislature when money is tight. Likewise, the Legislature has little reason to cast the difficult votes required to cut spending when state revenues fall. They can let the governor do it.
The Republican governor's latest proposals are a warmed-over version of proposals he made in mid-February. He renewed the call for $405 million in cuts, and added another $131 million to boot in more cuts to cities, health and human services, and an Iron Range economic development fund. He made the proposals because it's now deemed unlikely that Congress will send the state an expected $408 million in one-time assistance before the Legislature's required May 17 adjournment. DFLers joined Pawlenty in building their budget proposals to use the federal money. They have not yet presented their Plan B.
The governor's proposals don't acknowledge that the DFL-controlled Legislature has already rejected many of his ideas. The Plan B he offered Tuesday looks a lot like his Plan A. He evidently thinks that as long as he has unlimited unallotment power, he need not be bothered with negotiations to arrive at a mutually agreeable Plan B. If the high court thinks otherwise, it should speak before May 17.