Column: Unallotment a poor display of leadership

LUVERNE -- The big, scary word of the last 12 months seemed to be "recession." Allow me to propose a candidate for the big, scary word of the next two years: it is the previously little-known word "unallotment." The public was introduced to this ...

LUVERNE -- The big, scary word of the last 12 months seemed to be "recession."

Allow me to propose a candidate for the big, scary word of the next two years: it is the previously little-known word "unallotment."

The public was introduced to this word as the nation's economy tumbled and Minnesota's budget reached crisis level with a deficit in the billions of dollars. When congressional DFL leaders and Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty were unable to come to an agreement as to what should be done to solve the problem, Pawlenty announced that he would use his powers of unallotment and line-item veto to do it all on his own.

By definition, unallotment is a reduction in unexpended allotments of any prior government appropriation or transfer. This power is relatively unique, and essentially it gives Gov. Pawlenty authority, in conjunction with the line-item veto, to makes cuts to any and all funding and programs he chooses.

And he can do this without any input or consent from the Minnesota Legislature, or even the people of Minnesota.


To be painfully frank, this is fundamentally undemocratic and, to use a popular Washington catchphrase, it's "un-American." Allowing one person to make all the state's financial decisions disrupts the balance of power. It's the opposite of what our founding fathers fought to protect, and it's tantamount to a monarchial or dictatorial government structure.

With that being said, the reasoning behind Pawlenty's decision to use the power of unallotment is inherently flawed. It was long ago disproved that simply waiting for an economic crisis to end doesn't work. But in this case, it's even worse: instead of just sitting around and hoping our luck will improve, Pawlenty is actually in the process of cutting essential state funding.

For example, aid to city and county governments for 2010 is being drastically cut, in some cases by more than 50 percent. Funding for many of the human services programs that help the poor, disabled and elderly will be severely diminished, and in some cases, eliminated entirely. Thousands of hours of paid work will be cut from government employees at all levels. Payments to our cash-strapped public schools will be delayed. There's much more.

However, it won't only be Minnesotans with a direct connection to the government that will be affected. Although the first to feel the pain of the cuts will be people who are employed by government agencies or who receive aid from programs, soon others will be affected, too. These individuals and families will tighten up their budgets and spend less at retail stores, hair salons, restaurants, car dealerships, auto repair shops and other local businesses.

Not even public safety will be free from the effects of the unallotments. Already cities and counties are facing difficult decisions about what to cut, and some, like the town of Elko-New Market, have even been forced to cut their police force.

And all of these cuts for what? So that Gov. Pawlenty doesn't have to raise taxes by a penny. But let's be clear on something: just because Pawlenty refuses to raise taxes at the state level doesn't mean there won't be a tax hike. Thanks to Pawlenty's proposed cuts to local governments, it will be cities, counties, and perhaps even townships that raise your taxes.

Personally, I would rather have a job and get taxed a little bit more than lose my job entirely. Then again, I guess you can't be taxed on income that no longer exists, or on property that's been seized by the bank.

Gov. Pawlenty's strategy of using these drastic unallotment cuts to solve this budget crisis is just plain scary, not to mention illogical. It's a very poor display of leadership on the part of the governor. Even now, Minnesota Congressional leaders are trying to arrange a Leadership Summit for September to discuss the budget crisis, yet Pawlenty has already refused to attend. Perhaps Pawlenty's political image for the 2012 presidential race is more important to him than the future of our state.

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