‘Unallotment’: Is this how future governors will govern?

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.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty
REUTERS/Jim Bourg
Gov. Tim Pawlenty

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.

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Comments (18)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 05/18/2009 - 10:12 am.

    Evidently, no one told the Democrat legislature that more than 50,000 people lost their jobs in Minnesota last year.

    And if they are clueless about that, they are also probably completely unaware that many of us still working have accepted pay cuts to stay employed.

    Being employees of the state may explain their ignorance since the effects of the national economic collapse we “real people” are dealing with has gone largely unnoticed in the public sector.

    The state on Minnesota is its own largest employer; that is untenable.

    Cost of government has consistently exceeded the rate of inflation, often by double digits; that is untenable.

    Barack Obama and the Democrat majority in the federal legislature have buried us under a $1.8 Trillion dollar debt, and are promising more of the same; that is untenable.

    The GOP leadership can take a hint. They saw the housing market collapse under its own weight, and are determined not to let government finish the work that Barney Frank, Freddie Mac and Sallie Mae started.

    Just as this recession is reshaping the business landscape in America, so should it reshape the way we look at government. Unfortunately, we have elected an inexperienced, unqualified man as President, and we will have to deal with the consequences of his kid in a candy store free-for-all.

    Thankfully, we in Minnesota are lucky enough to have a thoughtful, careful man that has been paying attention to the situation we are in.

    Governor Tim Pawlenty is providing an example of true leadership through very tough times that the entire nation, and the federal government especially, should be emulating.

  2. Submitted by Terry Burke on 05/18/2009 - 10:47 am.

    I think it’s incredibly poor leadership to stick to a one note – no new taxes – in this difficult time. It’s poor leadership to cut the amount of money adults with disabilities can keep from their SSI in a group home – cut 25% from $120/month to $89/month for personal expenses – and yet refuse to look at any tax increase for people making over $250,000!

    Why should adults with disabilities take a 25% cut in their spending money???? when the wealthiest are not asked to give ONE MORE PENNY????

    Why are credit card companies that charge over 15% interest exempt????

    It is outrage that the poorest Minnesotans are taking a huge hit and the wealthiest are not paying one more cent!

    I don’t call that leadership – I call it meanness, the strong bullying the weak!

  3. Submitted by Gene Martinez on 05/18/2009 - 11:18 am.

    Gov. Pawlenty is clearing abusing his power to veto and unallot funding.
    The DFL should respond by passing a Constitutional Amendment lowering the threshold for overriding a veto from a 2/3 majority to a super majority of 60%.
    Why should a Governor who has never even come close to gaining a majority vote for himself, have the power to overrule the people’s represenatives? Lowering the veto override requirements to 60% would strengthen a legislative branch that is having its power unfairly taken away by this Governor. No Governor of any political party should be able to get away with what Pawlenty is trying to do.

  4. Submitted by Brian Simon on 05/18/2009 - 11:29 am.

    What’s most frustrating about this process is that zero headway has been made to address the systemic budget shortfalls we’re seeing at the state level. This has been a problem with the budget for every biennium thus far in Governor Pawlenty’s terms. The failure in leadership is not exclusive to this year – it has existed for 6 years, and will apparently exist for the next two as well.

    That is why, to my way of thinking, there is a silver lining to the way this session is ending. The Governor has refused to negotiate a rational budget that balances revenue & expenses without resorting to accounting gimmicks and one-time money. How he claims he’ll do the job himself. It will be very telling, what programs he chooses to cut and which he chooses to fund. That will lay a very clear roadmap for voters in the 2010 elections, when it comes time to decide who we want to represent us in the future.

    There certainly will be pain felt by MN voters over the next two years, as the budget is cut significantly in order to match spending to revnue. But the long-term benefit looms large: we’ll have a pretty clear idea of what ‘small government’ means. I suspect we’ll see a lot more voters who are happy to pay for a better Minnesota.

  5. Submitted by Joel Jensen on 05/18/2009 - 02:00 pm.

    Unallotment authority appears to arise from a condition precedent or two that may not exist.

    First, the language of the unallotment authority clearly assumes the previous enactment of a balanced budget before the beginning of a new biennium. If this pre-condition, which seems to also be required by both the MN Constitution and MN statute, is not met prior to July 1, 2009, does the authority to unallot on or after July 1, 2009 exist?

    It seems that if a governor and legislature fail in their duty (constitutional and statutory) to establish a balanced budget for the upcoming biennium prior to July 1, they may not pass go nor may they collect $200 through unallotment and if they do, just maybe they should go directly to “jail”.

    Second (and more explicitly) the unallotment authority may only be excercised if the

    “commissioner [of finance] determines that probable receipts for the general fund will be less than anticipated and that the amount available for the remainder of the biennium will be less than needed,”.

    So what revenue was “anticipated”?

    It would appear that the revenue that is “anticipated” (and the commissioner of finance must determine that post-July 1 revenues will be less than) is the revenue that is projected based on the most recent official forecast as adjusted by expected revenue estimated in official fiscal notes for enacted legislation. These are the reveune numbers that all parties are required to abide by during the legislative session. (The finding that such post July 1 updated projected revenue will be “less than needed” is a second, independent threshold that must then also be met.)

    So, if the revenue projections after July 1 are not lower than those “anticipated” revenues used during the legislative session, has the legal threshold for unallotment authority been met?

    (And if the Governor knows today that the revenues will be less that “anticipated”, why hasn’t there been a revised forcast?)

    If the failure of the Governor and Legislature to do what is necessary to enact a balanced budget does not have some consequences this session, the balanced budget requirement loses it’s authority for every session hereafter and then it’s “let the games begin.”

  6. Submitted by Andrew Kearney on 05/18/2009 - 03:44 pm.

    It is understandable that people of Mr. Swift’s ilk will support the governor. What is more surprising is that we have not heard from the Archbishop on this matter nor from the Minneapolis tribune. This confirms my beliefs on these two features of life in Minnesota. The archbishop has now certified that he is no longer a follower of Jesus Christ but is rather the head of a diminishing “cult of the fetus” (including many fundamentalist protestants) who like Muslims use the Christian scriptures only to support their central concern:the fetus.

    The Minneapolis Tribune has now abandoned its liberal opinion page philosophy and instead is merely a clearinghouse for other people’s opinions-an expensive and not particularly well done blog.

    As for Pawlenty he is still the sniveling hockey player wannabe who didn’t make varsity-still trying to get along with big guys in Naples Florida and now onto the big boys in the Republican party. All at the cost of leaving behind a diminished Minnesota.

  7. Submitted by Richard Hutton on 05/18/2009 - 04:05 pm.

    While it is not easy to see what is happening and is a stomach wrenching situation we were warned by the Governor time and time again. Other than the state of Colorado, where government was cut as severely, we are seeing the gutting of programs here in Minnesota for the first time. Republicans continue to be the party of business and the wealthy with no concern for those less fortunate than themselves.

  8. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 05/18/2009 - 04:10 pm.

    Republicans crowing now may think differently when there’s a DFL or IP governor who decided there’s no need to work with the legislature on a budget. He’ll just unallot.

    Well, for now, the Republicans own this budget. The petulant child in the governor’s mansion refused any compromise just like always, and the Republicans throw around their silly charges. It was maddening watching the DFL try to find a way to craft a compromise that could actually get signed and still be responsible, putting in incredible effort, knowing is was for naught. They had to try of course, but it was always hopeless. Well Republicans, it’s yours. Hope you’re proud.

    Actually, that’s just an expression. I don’t hope you’re proud. I hope you’re ashamed. But it’s not a high hope.

  9. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 05/18/2009 - 05:11 pm.

    “Republicans crowing now may think differently when there’s a DFL or IP governor who decided there’s no need to work with the legislature on a budget. He’ll just unallot.”

    Don’t look now, but, I’m pretty sure that when it comes to government spending bills, fiscally conservative Republicans are not too choosy about who does the unallotment, Eric. :^)

    Andrew, you probably wouldn’t have heard the Archbishop’s message if you haven’t been to mass recently, but thanks for your interest.

    Forcefully wrenching cash out of unwilling pockets is not a very good example of Christian charity. We Catholics are all called to freely and generously donate our time and our money to help the poor without expecting anything in return.

    Here’s more information from Archbishop Nienstedt, himself. (Nothing about any “cult of the fetus” that I saw.)

    http://www.archspm.org/appeal

  10. Submitted by Andrew Zabilla on 05/18/2009 - 07:03 pm.

    You must not have been paying attention in church. A group of bishops, including Archbishop Nienstedt got together and wrote a letter with such quotes as:

    “In your deliberations, we urge you to ensure that our state has sufficient revenue to meet the needs of Minnesotans, especially those among us who are poor and vulnerable, since they will be most affected by your decisions.”

    “place first, never last, those who are vulnerable, especially those living in poverty;”

    “One way to contribute to the common good is by raising the revenues necessary to meet the needs of individuals, families and local communities throughout our state.”

    “We believe that resolving the budget deficit through spending cuts alone will do great harm to Minnesotans and our economy.”

    Read it all at – http://thecatholicspirit.com\index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1588&Itemid=27

    I think these comments make abundantly clear where the Archbishop and several others of the Catholic Church believe in regards to increasing taxes and HHS budget cuts.

  11. Submitted by Andrew Kearney on 05/18/2009 - 11:31 pm.

    Thank you Andrew Z. for your forwarding of the letter from the bishops. I was not able to find the citation so do not know if it represents the Archbishop’s specific comments on the current Minnesota situation. The people of the Catholic Church have a strong tradition of social justice as these comments show. I am disappointed that this archbishop did not come out more publicaly in the media about this situation. The comments about being in church are not worthy. I do not attend the Catholic Church and so am not in a position to hear internal announcements and newsletter items. I do however look to the church to provide public leadership as Archbishop Flynn did. I am disappointed that the current archbishop finds ways to be vocal about abortion but not social justice (that would reduce abortions). My comments about cults stand. The first commandment is precious to God. His people have many times strayed and I am sorry that some Catholics and other reputed Christians place an obsession (worship) with/of the fetus in place of worship of God.

  12. Submitted by M Grier on 05/22/2009 - 08:26 pm.

    The GOP spends more than the Democrats. The Dems are willing to pay for what they spend, while the GOP borrows the same amount (or more) from future generations.

    My question for Mr. Swift: Are you a Republican or a Libertarian?

  13. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 05/23/2009 - 12:55 am.

    Unallotment is now to be used, not as a tool, but as a weapon.

    Why not call it ‘political rendition’, what has now been rendered unto Pawlenty, by Pawlenty?

    Thanks alot for”unallot”…which essentially results in the power of one over the many in the 21st century?

    Doesn’t sound like democracy to me, but something else not too acceptable with the state relinquishing power to a single individual.

    The misuse of unallotment by Pawlenty is incidiously excessive; seriously disturbing, reflecting his desperate need to control.

    Call it extraordinary renditions over just government in Minnesota.

  14. Submitted by Alan Roebke on 05/24/2009 - 02:55 pm.

    Governor Pawlenty–unallot Ethanol Subsidies!

    Send this to Governor Pawlenty at:

    budgetideas@state.mn.us

    Governor Pawlenty:
    Governor, please immediately unallot my tax dollars for Ethanol Subsidies! By simply removing the remaining “Ethanol Subsidies” under the fiscal 2009 budget of $8,363,000 and the $12,168,000 scheduled for 2010 and the additional $12,168,000 for 2011, for a total saving of $32,699,000 kept in the 2009-2011 budgets todate! Then also end the $19,790,000 still scheduled for fiscal 2012-2013. For all this money only goes to the “Ethanol Plants” that enjoyed the best of times and for the last five years have sent out over $100 million annually to their invester in the form of dividends!!!!!!! This will make a total savings of $53 million, available for “Government Agencies and People” who really need help! Thank You for your leadership
    —Signed —–Your Name—tape at http://www.congressionalchange.com

  15. Submitted by Arron Olson on 05/24/2009 - 08:56 pm.

    Question: Why is the Gov doing this?
    Answer: Pawlenty is doing so because of the mistaken notion that a higher tax on the wealthy “kills jobs.”

    This fiscal conservative talking point is entirely subjective. There are no studies that show any correlation between higher taxes and less jobs/growth/investment. When asked to provide a study, Minority Leader Seifert handed a reporter an opinion piece from the Washington Post.

    Minnesota is a great state because of the people in it. We invest in our citizens and we reap the benefits from doing so. When the state invests in you, you have an obligation to return the favor for those who come after you.

    The hard work that entrepreneurs put in should be rewarded, but nearly all the skills they have can be attributed to state-run things like public education.

    In other words, would you please chip in to keep our state in good condition? Either that or move to a state that has low taxes and does not invest in its citizens…I think you’ll find you would rather pay a little more to enjoy the benefits of a strong economy and social safety net.

  16. Submitted by April Murch on 05/24/2009 - 10:12 pm.

    It would seem that this power of unallotment fundamentally contradicts the constitutionally defined roles of our state legislative and executive branches. Still, I wouldn’t mind if he unallotted the $16M being given to SECRETIVE, CORPORATIST BIOTECH PARTNERSHIPS. They’ve been slipping this into every Omnibus Higher Ed bill since 2003. Call or write Pawlenty and tell him to unallot this nonsense (line 18.32-19.19 in SF 2083).

    Bill text: https://www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us/bin/bldbill.php?bill=S2083.3.html&session=ls86

    phone: 651-296-3391
    e-mail: budgetideas@state.mn.us

  17. Submitted by William Wallace on 05/24/2009 - 11:57 pm.

    Pawlenty for Vice President! (Palin for President).

    Sad that the legislative branch isn’t doing its job.

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