In a 4-3 ruling delivered Wednesday, the Minnesota Supreme Court essentially rejected $2.7 billion in unilateral spending cuts Gov. Tim Pawlenty made last year after he vetoed a tax bill that would have raised that amount at the end of the session.
Chief Justice Eric Magnuson, a Pawlenty appointee who’s retiring this June, along with Justices Alan Page, Paul Anderson and Helen Meyer, decided Pawlenty did not follow the law when it came to unalloting more than $5.3 million in approved spending for Minnesota’s Special Diet Program.
While it did not address the constitutionality of Pawlenty’s actions or the unallotment authority he used, the ruling said he abused that authority in making $2.7 billion worth of cuts. That increases from $1 billion to $3.7 billion the budget hole the Legislature and Pawlenty now have to fill before they adjorn in less than two weeks.
And since Pawlenty’s first responses to the ruling were to insist that the DFL-controlled Legislature ratify his cuts and to rule out any tax increases, the chances of lawmakers leaving May 17 without a budget deal and having to come back for a special session just went up significantly.
Essentially, the majority opinion of the court said that the one clear legal reason for a governor using unallotment is when the legislature and the governor have already agreed on a budget but revenues don’t match up to what was expected. Then spending cuts are necessary to put the budget back in balance.
|“In the context of this limited constitutional grant of gubernatorial authority with regard to appropriations, we cannot conclude that the Legislature intended to authorize the executive branch to use the unallotment process to balance the budget for an entire biennium when balanced spending and revenue legislation has not been initially agreed upon by the Legislature and the Governor. Instead, we conclude that the Legislature intended the unallotment authority to serve the more narrow purpose of providing a mechanism by which the executive branch could address unanticipated deficits that occur after a balanced budget has previously been enacted.”|
Click here to read the full opinion.
But if there’s no budget agreement by the end of session, as was the case last year, a special session, not unallotment, is the legal way to go to fix things.
Justices Page and Paul Anderson went beyond the ruling in arguing that the power of unallotment might be unconstitutional in and of itself and upset the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches.
Justices Lori Gildea, G. Barry Anderson and Christopher Dietzen argued in the dissent that the power of unallotment is shared between the legislative and executive branches and is therefore not a violation of the separation of powers between them.
They also argued that the legislature wrote restraints on the governor’s unallotment powers into the law and that Pawlenty’s administration followed those restraints in carrying out their actions, so there was no violation of the law.
* * * * * * * * * *
Can’t get enough news about the unallotment decision? Here’s more:
Pawlenty responds to Supreme Court ruling on constitutionality of unallotment by Andy Birkey, Minnesota Independent
Dems react to high court’s unallotment ruling by Paul Schmelzer, Minnesota Independent
Emmer slams GOP-heavy Supreme Court for ‘judicial activism’ by Andy Birkey, Minnesota Independent
The Unallotment Decision: The Majority Opinion by Eric Black, MinnPost
How does the ruling affect the rest of the biennium? by Eric Black, MinnPost
Unallotment coverage at PIM: Lillehaug, Arne Carlson, MAK, Magnuson, what’s the $2.7B? and more