The big surprise of this legislative session? Gov. Tim Pawlenty late last week pulling the “unallotment” club out of his budget-cutting bag of tricks.
All legislators were aware of unallotment. Most, by the way, seem to believe it’s an executive branch tool in the state’s constitution. It’s not a constitutional power, rather it’s a power given by statute.
Up until now, unallotment has been used only as an emergency device by governors to get the budget in balance in the second half of the second year of a biennium. Govs. Rudy Perpich and Al Quie each used it once. Pawlenty will be using it for at least a third time if he carries out his threat to balance the budget using line-item vetoes and unallotment. No governor has used it so early in a biennium or used it to cut so deeply as Pawlenty vows he will.
Understand, he can’t begin “unallotting” until after the start of the new fiscal year, July 1. But at that point, he’ll be able to shape the budget as he sees fit.
There will be no transparency as there is in the legislative session. No public testimony.
Even some Republicans are a little concerned that if Pawlenty carries out his threat, he’ll be setting a precedent that will almost surely be used by future governors.
“The power is there to us, but in its place,” said Rep. Laura Brod, R-New Prague. “But none of us wants to see it used often.”
But after raising some concern about this seemingly big new executive club, Brod said she believes Pawlenty really doesn’t want to use it, either.
“In this case, it just shows strong leadership,” she said. “Honestly, it’s not hard to fix the situation we’re in. People just have to be willing to sit down and negotiate. I’m sure the governor is hoping to negotiate.”
DFLers, of course, say they have negotiated and compromised. Initially, they point out, the DFL-controlled Senate wanted to raise $2.2 billion in taxes and the house $1.5 billion to balance the budget. The two bodies finally settled on a $1 billion tax increase as one portion of filling the $4.6 billion deficit. Pawlenty has remained wed to raising no taxes.
And now, he’s threatening to unallot to make sure he prevails.
At least one representative, Andrew Falk, DFL-Murdock, thinks Pawlenty’s use of unallotment is giving way too much power to the executive. He’s attempting to build support for legislation that would take away that power.
“The unallotment he’s proposing is 10 times the magnitude of anything used before,” Falk said. “That’s not right. The Legislature needs to be part of budget discussions.”
Though he’s just a rookie legislator, Falk said he felt compelled to act quickly.
“We need to have a discussion in this body about how much power the governor should have,” Falk said.
Likely, there will be no time for that discussion this year, though Falk has picked up 34 signatures to his bill.
Falk, a farmer by profession, tried to get Rep. Marty Seifert, the Republican minority leader, to be a co-author of his bill.
How’d that go?
“He said he wasn’t interested,” said Falk. “I wasn’t too surprised.”
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.