Ramsey County Judge Kathleen Gearin sent a deep shock through Minnesota government — and the state’s precarious general fund budget — this afternoon when she issued a temporary injunction against enforcing budget cuts unilaterally made by Gov. Tim Pawlenty last summer. And though the case before Gearin concerns only a single state nutrition program, it will likely open the door to wholesale legal challenges to the $2.7 billion in cuts and cost shifts implemented by Pawlenty after his administration failed to come to a budget deal with the DFL-controlled Legislature last May.
As of 5:00 this afternoon, the skeleton crew of legislative and administration staffers on hand at the Capitol were scrambling to read the order and absorb its implications. House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher (DFL-Minneapolis), whose chamber filed a controversial amicus brief on behalf of the plaintiffs in the case, said in a release, “Today’s ruling represents a victory for all Minnesotans concerned about the overreach of executive authority. I applaud Judge Gearin’s order and look forward to a full hearing on this case early next year.”
Pawlenty’s office had this to say in their release: “We are disappointed in the judge’s decision. We are weighing all of our options including appeal, reestablishing unallotments under the current forecast, potential legislative action, and other options.”
David Lillehaug, a DFLer and a former U.S. Attorney who was active in behind-the-scenes discussions about pursuing legal action against the unallotments, told PIM this evening that he expects Pawlenty to appeal the decision “very quickly.” He added that others affected by the Pawlenty cuts are now likely to follow the same course. “The court’s logic as it applies to the nutrition program applies to every other unallotment,” said Lillehaug. “So colleges and universities, school districts, nonprofit organizations, the hospitals–everyone affected by these unallotments should seek the same relief.”
Here is Gearin’s order (PDF).