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Don Davis, Published June 01 2009

Senator calls Pawlenty acts ‘power grab’

ST. PAUL – A column penned by the assistant Minnesota Senate majority leader may signal how Democrats will react to Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s unilateral cutting of state budgets.

Sen. Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud, wrote that the Republican governor is improperly using his unallotment powers, the authority in law for him to cut budgets when there is not enough revenue to pay for everything lawmakers approved.

“What the crafters of the unallotment law didn’t anticipate was a rogue governor who would choose to act in bad faith, as Pawlenty has done,” Clark wrote. “Pawlenty refused meaningful negotiations, made impossible demands for clearly imprudent accounting stunts like borrowing to pay on-going expenses and vetoed reasonable attempts by the Legislature to make cuts and increase revenue.”

The headline she placed on her column called the governor’s actions a “power grab.”

Republican lawmakers and Pawlenty, on the other hand, say the Democratic-controlled Legislature passed spending bills that fell $3 billion short of available revenue. And, the GOP side says, Pawlenty made it clear that he would not accept tax increases included in a last-minute bill; the governor long has said he opposes state tax increases.

Clark said that the unallotment law is for emergency use only: “During a financial crisis occurring between legislative sessions, a governor, acting prudently and in consultation with a key legislative commission, would make needed adjustments to hold the budget together until the legislature and governor could again pass legislation to balance the budget.”

Using unallotment before the next two-year budget begins essentially makes Pawlenty “the sole decision-maker over funding for activities under the state’s general fund,” Clark said.

No deal? Cut pay

Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, has an oldie-but-goodie bill proposal.

Garofalo said his first 2010 bill will be cutting legislative and gubernatorial pay if they fail to reach a budget agreement, like happened this year.

“When public- and private-sector workers don’t get their jobs done, there are financial penalties,” Garofalo said. “The same principle should apply to the Legislature and the governor: No work, no pay.”

Garofalo said he supports Pawlenty’s action to unilaterally cut spending so the state budget is balanced, but he said lawmakers and chief executives should agree on budgets.

“I am worried that it sets a dangerous precedent for relations between the executive and legislative branches,” he said of Pawlenty’s action. “This legislation will help insure that future legislatures don’t repeat the failures of the 2009 session. I am confident that if the public contacts their legislators, this legislation will have a good chance of becoming law. I look forward to hearing some elected officials explain why accountability from politicians is a bad idea.”

Similar bills have been introduced in the past, but have not passed.

City cuts OK

Pawlenty should not claim that cities are unwilling to see their state aid cut, a city leader says.

The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities supports some cuts to local government aid, said Wadena Mayor Wayne Wolden. But the coalition’s president added that the governor “greatly misrepresents our position.”

Wolden lobbied Pawlenty to be careful when cutting budgets in the next few weeks.

“Governor, please don’t discount the severity of these cuts,” Wolden wrote in a letter to Pawlenty. “They will have serious impacts in our communities. While we may have our differences of opinion on policy, we can both agree that Minnesotans – no matter what corner of the state they live in – deserve strong communities at an affordable price.”

Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. He can be reached at (651) 290-0707 or ddavis@forumcomm.com