A bitter, partisan battle has landed Minnesota governor and potential 2012 GOP presidential contender Tim Pawlenty in court as state Democrats joined a handful of citizens in suing the governor over cuts he made to help balance the state budget.
The Washington Times has contacted the governor’s office for more information about this fight and a short Q&A conducted via email with Mr. Pawlenty is included below.
But, first I’d like to offer this primer.
Last month the majority-Democratic Minnesota House Rules Committee voted on party-lines, 14-8, to file a friend-of-the-court, or amicus curiae, brief to show support of some Minnesotans who are attempting to revoke Mr. Pawlenty’s budget cuts in court.
Six residents, representing five different counties want to repeal two of Mr. Pawlenty’s budget cuts and filed their suit in October. The first cut they want restored is to a program that gives extra cash to the elderly and disabled on the state’s Supplemental Security Income to purchase foods needed for a medically prescribed diet. The second is for a renter’s tax break for the low and middle-income residents.
Facing a $2.7 billion budget shortfall, Mr. Pawlenty made these cuts by using a special power he has as governor to reduce appropriations passed by the legislature in times of financial emergency. The Minnesota Constitution requires the government to balance the budget each year and Mr. Pawlenty says cuts were needed to meet that requirement.
But, the plaintiffs said he overstepped his authority and should have vetoed the too-expensive budget the legislature gave him and sent it back to the legislature to make the cuts rather than doing so unilaterally.
A judge is expected to rule on the matter soon.
Below is Mr. Pawlenty’s take on the matter and the specifics of what programs he cut.
QUESTION AND ANSWER WITH GOVERNOR PAWLENTY
TWT: You are being sued by a handful of Minnesota citizens, with support from Minnesota’s legislative Democrats for budget cuts you insisted on. What was cut and how did you decide to make those cuts?
PAWLENTY: Earlier this year, I used executive actions to resolve a $2.7 billion budget shortfall. That included a $300 million reduction of payments to cities and counties, a $236 million reduction in human services spending and a $100 million reduction in higher education appropriations. The cuts protected funding for public safety, military and veterans programs, and K-12 education. As much as possible, we weighted the impact toward the second year of the two-year budget so the legislature can weigh in with other options during the 2010 legislative session, which begins in February.
TWT: Your critics argue you have misused your power as Governor to unilaterally balance the budget. Why are they wrong?
PAWLENTY: Minnesota’s constitution requires that the state budget be balanced and Minnesota law provides the authority for the Governor to reduce or delay expenditures if revenues are less than anticipated and will be less than needed. That law was enacted in 1939. We are confident that we appropriately used the tools provided in law to bring the budget into balance.
TWT: Legislative Democrats have used Minnesota state resources to file their amicus curiae briefing in the lawsuit against you. What is your opinion of using state resources in that manner?
PAWLENTY: It’s very unfortunate that Minnesota House Democrats directed non-partisan legislative staff to spend more than 112 hours preparing a partisan amicus brief. Every Republican member of the Minnesota House Rules Committee voted against the Democrat measure to enter into the lawsuit.
TWT: Should other GOP governors use your plan as a model? What lessons could they draw from this fight on a state and national level?
Nearly every state has a balanced budget requirement. Governors should have the ability to cut spending to balance budgets when revenues are less than anticipated and don’t match up with expenditures. As we face another projected deficit in Minnesota, my preference is to work with the legislature to cut spending. But if they are unwilling or unable to make the necessary tough choices, it will be my responsibility to make sure state government lives within its means.