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Pioneer Editorial: Pawlenty unallot was for naught

Democrats won't have much time to gloat over the Minnesota Supreme Court's close 4-3 decision Wednesday that essentially overturns Gov. Tim Pawlenty's use of unallotment last summer. Instead, they'll need the time to figure out the $2.7 billion budget hole the decision leaves it its wake.

It was a good decision. The court noted that the Republican governor improperly used his executive power of unallotment when, in fact, no state budget was in place. If you recall, the governor - to end the 2009 session -- signed all the spending bills and then, after the session ended, vetoed the bill lawmakers passed to pay for it. Instead, Gov. Pawlenty cut spending to match the revenue expected for the biennium -- a $2.7 billion difference. The biggest adjustment was delaying state payments to school districts by $1.8 billion, with state aid cuts to cities and counties ranking high as well.

"The unallotment statute provides the executive branch with authority to address an unanticipated deficit that arises after the legislative and executive branches have enacted a balanced budget," Chief Justice Eric Magnuson wrote for the majority. "The statute does not shift to the executive branch a broad budget-making authority allowing the executive branch to address a deficit that remains after a legislative session because the legislative and executive branches have not resolved their differences."

While the DFL-controlled Legislature won, most of what the governor unalloted has been implemented and it's a decision that can't be rescinded. Gov. Pawlenty wants lawmakers to ratify what he's done, or else start looking for another $2.7 billion in cuts -- he said Wednesday he will not raise taxes to fill the gap.

That's fine and well, but lawmakers are looking at least a $5.4 billion budget shortfall in the next biennium.

Lawmakers, at this point, should ratify most of the governor's actions of 2009 since so much water has gone over the dam. But the governor needs to finally back off his "no new taxes" pledge and allow some form of revenue-raising to accompany more spending cuts for the remaining $600 million-plus still needed to balance the current budget, over and above the $2.7 billion.

There is room for compromise. The governor may get his way if the Legislature ratifies his prior actions, but he needs to move off his "no new taxes" stance. Some form of revenue-raising, one that doesn't adversely affect average Minnesotans, needs to be found to solve the current budget hole but, more importantly, be put in place to narrow the budget gap predicted in the next biennium. Otherwise, the house of cards will fall and with it, Minnesota's quality of life.