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Unallotment decision comes today

File Photo: Gov. Tim Pawlenty announces that he will sign all legislative-passed budget bills, with some things removed, and make cuts on his own to balance the state budget. The move sent shock waves through the Capitol. Sen. David Hann of Eden Prairie is on the left. (Don Davis/State Capitol Bureau)

ST. PAUL - Today is when Gov. Tim Pawlenty tells people who receive state money how much he plans to cut from their budgets.

The Republican governor this afternoon announces how he would balance the state budget after he and Democratic-Farmer-Laborite legislative leaders failed to reach a budget deal before lawmakers went home for the year last month.

Pawlenty and Commissioner Tom Hanson of Minnesota Management and Budget took on the task of making budget cuts themselves, with health and human services, aids to local government, higher education and many state agencies expected to take hits.

Pawlenty also plans to delay sending some state checks to schools until the next two-year budget.

However, Pawlenty's spokesman said, the governor still will be open to ideas because his cuts do not take place until July 1, when the next two-year, $31-billion budget begins.

"We are certainly open to suggestions," Brian McClung said.

So far, only about a dozen legislators have given Pawlenty their ideas for what to cut, despite the governor's specific request for them to contribute.

Among the most controversial issues has been Pawlenty's plan to cut aid to cities and other local governments.

A Pawlenty budget plan would have cut local government aid, money paid to cities, by what he says is no more than 5 percent of the total property-tax-plus-state-aid funding. But city leaders say that would come on top of earlier cuts, including ones last year that came just days before cities were expecting state checks.

The governor has said small cities would be spared cuts.

Public school education will not be affected, McClung said, although like other state agencies the state Education Department could.

Most state agencies will experience cuts, although McClung said that public safety, veterans and military programs will not.

The cuts Pawlenty announces today likely will focus on the second year of the budget.

"He is looking to align these reductions in a way that provides the most possible flexibility for those who will be impacted, including cities, counties and others," McClung said. "When possible, the impact is lessened in the first year."

Besides giving those receiving state money more reaction time, delaying the cuts for a year allows legislators to make changes for the second year when they return to St. Paul next February.

Before officially making the cuts, Hanson has called a Thursday meeting of a legislative commission. While Pawlenty does not have to heed any advice the commission gives, McClung said the governor welcomes comments on his proposal.

Pawlenty signed all the major budget bills lawmakers passed this year, but he rejected a tax increase plan forwarded by the DFL, meaning the state's spending fell $2.7 billion short of revenue. He promises to pare spending to match state revenues.

He is invoking a law allowing him to "unallot" money already appropriated. The law was designed to give a governor a chance to balance the books near the end of a fiscal cycle when revenues fall below expectations. It rarely has been used.

A governor can cut spending, but cannot increase revenue. In any case, Pawlenty has steadfastly refused to accept any state tax increases.

Assistant Senate Majority Leader Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud, called Pawlenty a "rogue governor" for deciding to make cuts on his own instead of negotiating with legislative leaders. Democrats control both chambers of the Legislature.

"Pawlenty refused meaningful negotiations, made impossible demands for clearly imprudent accounting stunts like borrowing to pay ongoing expenses and vetoed reasonable attempts by the Legislature to make cuts and increase revenue," she said.

But Pawlenty may face more than Democratic rhetoric once he makes his unallotment decisions. Several interest groups are looking into lawsuits over his actions; Pawlenty himself has said he would not be surprised if he were sued.

Pawlenty says the public is behind his decision to unallot.

"The No. 1 response I get ... anecdotally is: 'Thank goodness we're not having a stupid special session, thank goodness we're not having a stupid (government) shutdown and thank you, governor, for taking the bull by the horns and getting this thing dealt with,'" he said soon after the legislative session ended on May 18.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.