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Legislators wonder about limiting unallotment powers

With Gov. (for 19 more months) Tim Pawlenty about to start chopping state spending with his unilateral unallotment powers, some legislators are wondering if there should be limits to that power.

Several Bemidji-area legislators talked about it Tuesday at a Chamber of Commerce forum, said the Bemidji Pioneer.

While Democrats tend to favor the end of unallotment, the lone Republican in the group, Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, talked about limits.

“Even if it’s a Democrat governor and a Republican-controlled House, I would still want the governor to have that little bit of an ace up his sleeve,” Howes said. “I really think that does help. Putting a limit on what they can unallot would stop them from taking that process to the next level because they can’t complete the job. They’d have to call a special session.”

Howes said he’d like to see a limit of 4 percent or less of the General Fund eligible for unallotment, and would like to specify where the money could come from.

“Changing it a little bit and limiting the power would be a good idea,” Howes said. “Taking it away would be vetoed by a governor.”

Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, noted that the governor’s powers to unallot — or take back legislatively appropriated funds — was designed for an emergency situation toward the end of a biennium to balance the budget, and has never before been used to balance a new budget as a biennium begins.

“It’s a continual erosion of the Legislature’s jurisdiction,” Skoe said. “There will be efforts to change this in the future. Whoever is governor, no matter the party, is going to veto it.”

Rep. Brita Sailer, DFL-Park Rapids, said a bill was introduced in the waning hours of the session to change the unallotment powers, but it never gained traction.

“Already there was indignation and a bill to do this,” Sailer said. “I think we will be looking at it again because the unallotment was put in place … to be a stopgap, to deal with a problem in between sessions. This clearly is not what happened this time around.”

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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by William Hansen on 06/03/2009 - 11:22 am.

    It’s important that the legislature confront this issue. Otherwise, what’s the point? I recommend this excellent editorial from Marshall Helmberger in the Ely/Tower/Orr Timberjay: .

  2. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 06/03/2009 - 03:44 pm.

    What’s really needed is a definition in the law specifying at what specific date point (late?) in the biennium an emergency can be declared, how large the deficit (actual revenue vs. expected revenue) must be to constitute an emergency and a strict percentage of spending the governor him/herself can “unalot” (total in any one biennium) without the requirement that a special session be called.

  3. Submitted by Jeff Kline on 06/03/2009 - 04:46 pm.

    The talk bantering about appears to me to be contrary to the very point of government “of” the people for the people, by the people. We need to remember that just as we must keep our “house in order” financially wise, so does go the states finances as well. It is well within the Governors right to nix many spending programs that he feels go overboard and can be best lived without in this point in time. If memory serves, are we ourselves required to keep our finances in order? What happens if you overdraft your account?? You have to pay lots of fees and fines. What about the state?? Why do the democrats think that they are above this and the republicans and independents believe that you must keep your books tight and not overspend?? Someone needs to explain to me and others what is the philosophy involved in the democratic mind that generates this rationale.

  4. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 06/03/2009 - 08:38 pm.

    HMMM… let’s see the DFL mindset? Perhaps it’s based on the factual reality that back before the tax cuts granted the wealthiest of the wealthy here in Minnesota a few years ago which have left those good folks consistently paying a smaller percentage of the income they derive from each hour of their lives they devote to profitable pursuits than I or most other people making less than $200,000/year do, Minnesota was a more prosperous, more physically, fiscally and economically healthy state with more profitable businesses being born each year, where the wealth being created in this “high tax” state far outweighed the cost savings of those tax cuts.

    But, alas, when the DFL tried to turn the clock back in the direction of those better days, our governor insisted on pursuing the currently-in-vogue Republican strategy akin to a family telling it’s youngest or sickest or poorest performing elementary-age child that they were being thrown out on the street because the family could no long afford them while mom and dad and the rest of the family continued to work only when they felt like working, run up their credit cards buying fun toys and wining and dining each other to their heart’s content.

    But after all, it’s THEIR money, they didn’t ask for that inconvenient and expensive child to be conceived when they had sex. Neither that child, or any other child of God has the right to get in the way of their Republican, selfish, self-serving good times.

    Does that clear it up for you?

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