Pioneer Editorial: Unallotment sends state wrong way
In an unprecedented move on Tuesday, Gov. Tim Pawlenty practically produced a state budget totally on his own.
Using the unallotment process, the Republican governor cut or shifted $3 billion in state spending (including the $300 million he line-item vetoed earlier for health care for poor adults). The amount is roughly 10 times any previous governor's use of unallotment -- which is reserved as an end-of-year move by a governor to balance the budget when the Legislature isn't in session.
The biggest move by Pawlenty on Tuesday is the deferral of $1.2 billion in state payments to local school districts. While the governor maintains districts will be repaid, they will incur cash flow problems and incur interest costs to borrow money to make up for the temporary loss.
Also, cities and counties will bear the brunt of the state's budgeting problems, seeing $300 million taken away from them. Gov. Pawlenty makes some good points about the city of Minneapolis not needing $50,000 artistic water fountains, but there are hundreds of other cities who have spent prudently and now will need to consider the loss of some city service, whether it be police or fire, or parks and libraries.
Higher education has held the line when it should be given more money, as recessionary times bring more people to school to learn higher skills for when t5he economy turns around. Instead, the governor will take $100 million more.
Health and human services, however, will take a $236 million hit over the next two years. The governor seems incensed that spending in this category has way outpaced inflation -- citing a 36 percent increase in one case. While a huge expenditure, it involves services to our most vulnerable citizens. Perhaps swayed by mounting pressure, he said he kept cuts to hospitals at a minimum, but any cut could be devastating. Plus, it won't make up for the earlier health program cut that will instead send poor adults to emergency rooms for more expensive -- and often uncompensated -- care.
He will affect nursing homes only by suspending rebasing of their rates, which he says is not a cut but in essence is a cut since reimbursements to nursing homes haven't been adjusted for inflation since early this decade.
These are all policy decisions that should be made by the legislative branch, not the executive. It was also a policy decision that new revenues needed to be part of the mix -- especially since they haven't been for 10 years since they were cut. It was a political decision by the governor to insist on taking new revenues off the table and instead cut what has already been cut and cut again.
With the direction of this budget, who will suffer the most?