- The Washington Times - Monday, December 7, 2009

Budget lawsuit

A bitter partisan battle has landed Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a potential 2012 Republican presidential contender, in court as state Democrats joined a handful of state residents in suing the governor over cuts he made to help balance the state budget.

Last month, the majority-Democrat Minnesota House Rules Committee voted on party lines, 14-8, to file an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief to show support of some Minnesotans who are attempting to revoke Mr. Pawlenty’s budget cuts in court.

“I used executive actions to resolve a $2.7 billion budget shortfall,” Mr. Pawlenty explained via e-mail to The Washington Times. “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.”

But the Democrats sided with six residents, representing five counties, who want to repeal two of Mr. Pawlenty’s budget cuts. The first cut they want restored is to a program that gives 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.

The plaintiffs argue that Mr. Pawlenty 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.

“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,” Mr. Pawlenty said in his e-mail. “That law was enacted in 1939. We are confident that we appropriately used the tools provided in law to bring the budget into balance.

“It’s very unfortunate that Minnesota House Democrats directed nonpartisan legislative staff to spend more than 112 hours preparing a partisan amicus brief,” he added.

A judge is expected to rule on the matter soon.

Indiana cuts

The governor of Indiana, also a possible 2012 Republican presidential candidate, has also been trimming his state budget.

Tax revenues in 2010 are expected to be far below what has been forecast and, in anticipation of this, Gov. Mitch Daniels called for a $150 million decrease to the state’s colleges Friday. He also suspended a $15 biweekly matching contribution to state employees’ retirement accounts and asked the Department of Agriculture to cut back on its state-owned vehicles.

The Daniels administration hopes this will save $159 million.

“We are taking steps to offset shortfalls as they occur. The chance that revenues will suddenly begin to resemble the forecast seems highly unlikely,” Mr. Daniels said in a statement “So it’s highly likely these are not the last steps we’ll have to take. Unwelcome as these actions are, we will do what’s necessary to protect Indiana taxpayers from the tax hikes being imposed in almost every other state.”

This comes after a series of reductions Mr. Daniels ordered last month that he says will save at least $300 million over the next 18 months.

Bipartisan on Ben

The most conservative and most liberal wings of the Senate can agree on one thing: Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke doesn’t deserve to be reappointed to his powerful position.

Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, will oppose the chairman in a Senate vote to reconfirm him and threatened a “hold” on his nomination until the Senate votes on legislation to audit the Fed.

Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent, has also put a hold on the chairman’s nomination. Mr. Sanders, a self-described socialist, and Mr. DeMint, one of the Senate’s most conservative members, agree that Mr. Bernanke has misread the economy several times in the run-up to the housing and banking crisis of 2008.

“Mr. Bernanke has been one of the chief proponents of the Fed’s easy-money policy that created the current financial crisis,” Mr. DeMint said in a statement. “He ignored asset bubbles, dismissed concerns about the weakness of the dollar, and helped encourage the credit mania that led to the financial panic. Even worse, Mr. Bernanke has refused to accept any responsibility for his role in these actions prior to financial crisis.”

Both parties have widespread agreement changes need to be made at the Federal Reserve. The Senate’s “audit the Fed” bill has 30 co-sponsors from both ends of the political spectrum, ranging from Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, to Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican. The House’s version of the bill, promoted heavily by former presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul, Texas Republican, has 317 co-sponsors - a healthy majority of the chamber.

Amanda Carpenter can be reached at acarpenter@ washingtontimes.com.

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