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John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


Unallotment Orders and Appeals

The judicial branch has weighed in on the issue of unallotments as exercised this past year by Governor Pawlenty. In the first of what is likely to be numerous rulings, the court issued a temporary restraining order enjoining the state government from reducing its allotment of funding to the Minnesota Supplemental Aid Special Diet Program. The Governor has announced that he will appeal the ruling. Given the constitutional issues at stake — the executive branch usurping the powers of the legislative, the governor abusing the unallotment statute as a way to get his way without having to negotiate or compromise with legislators — I have to assume that this will go up to the supreme court.

The practical effect is less certain. The state's budget forecast is now worse than it was when Pawlenty signed those spending bills whose funding he planned to veto. Any reprieve for the MSA Special Diet Program or anyone else (like Maplewood) subjected to unallotment is likely to be temporary; even if a legislative-executive budget compromise in the coming session includes tax increases, it will no doubt include substantial cuts too, that may well be more than the Pawlenty's 2009-2010 unallotments.

Judge Gearin's memorandum recognizes the worsening budget situation, and asks the rhetorical question, "Why then should the courts bother to enjoin this unallotment? Is the separation of powers part of our constitution that important?" Her answer is an emphatic "yes." She writes:

The revenue bill that the governor vetoed would have balanced the budget based on the anticipated receives forecast in February 2009. The governor used unallotment rather than calling a special session of the legislature or vetoing the appropriations bill to balance the budget. He did this after signing numerous spending bills which taken together, he knew would not balance the budget unless revenues were raised. He used the unallotment statute to address a situation that was neither unknown nor unanticipated when the appropriations bills became law . . .

. . . [T]he Governor crossed the line between legitimate exercise of his authority to unallot and interference with the Legislative power to make laws, including statutes allocating resources and raising revenues. The authority of the Governor to unallot is an authority intended to save the state in times of a previously unforeseen budget crisis, it is not meant to be used as a weapon by the executive branch to break a stalemate in budget negotiations with the legislature or to rewrite the appropriations bill.

I think it is essential that the judicial branch rule on this constitutional issue. Were it to go unchallenged, this way of using unallotment would represent a major increase of the power of the executive — something that even Pawlenty's devoted fans might not appreciate so much in future years when the office is occupied by other parties.

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