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Home / News / Gearin’s decision: Good for the state and spectacular for Pawlenty and the Republicans
Ramsey County Chief Judge Kathleen Guerin made a good decision for the state, and a spectacular one for GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Minnesota Republicans.

Gearin’s decision: Good for the state and spectacular for Pawlenty and the Republicans

Ramsey County Chief Judge Kathleen Gearin made a good decision for the state, and a spectacular one for GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Minnesota Republicans.

First, the decision. The chief distinction between Pawlenty’s earlier rounds of unallotments and those he made last spring was that the spring 2009 unallotments were made during the legislative session, “before the [entire state] budget had been enacted,” not when the Legislature was not in session. In so doing, Gearin wrote, “the governor crossed the line between legitimate exercise of his authority to unallot and interference with the Legislative power to make laws.”

Gearin goes on to make classic statements about the separation of power between the three co-equal branches of government. Agreed. About how those three branches of government function as checks and balances against each other. Agreed. Someday — but not likely in our lifetimes — a DFL governor may want to unallot Republican spending initiatives passed by a Republican-controlled legislature. Republicans won’t want vast unallotment powers in a governor then.

But what makes Gearin’s decisions about the separation of power and the need for checks and balances spectacular for Pawlenty and the Republicans is that the great stalling-out point between Pawlenty and the DFL-controlled legislature is the DFL’s insistence on raising taxes. For Democrats, that’s “compromise.”

But for Pawlenty and the Republicans — and the state Constitution and the courts — the governor is the governor. If he doesn’t want to raise taxes (or fees), he doesn’t have to. He may veto or sign bills. The separation of power doesn’t prescribe “compromise” on the core issue of raising taxes. The fact that Pawlenty has a constitutionally granted final say has driven the Democrats nuts.

Let’s play this out. Assume that others aggrieved by unallotments also sue and get temporary injunctions. All hell’s going to break loose. Assume that there’s the continued standoff between Democrats and Pawlenty and the Republicans over raising new revenue. Assume that there’s no agreement and the session ends in a stalemate.

A remarkably different set of political forces will be in play.

Unlike the standoff of 2005, which resulted in a temporary state shutdown, a special legislative session and Pawlenty agreeing to new revenue in cigarette distribution fees, Pawlenty has nothing to lose. Recall that public opinion polls at the time showed both Republicans and Democrats getting the blame for the shutdown. Pawlenty cared about Minnesota public opinion polls then, but he won’t now. In fact, the greater the Minnesota public spat over whether to raise taxes, the more national eyes and ears are going to be aware of Pawlenty sticking to his guns on an issue near and dear to the hearts of the national GOP base.

The 2005 shutdown also resulted in a Ramsey County District Court ruling that, despite the lack of a budget that year, the Pawlenty administration could continue to fund “core services.”

Obviously, these are vastly different economic times than 2005, when the economy was humming and people were using their homes as ATMs. Significant public support — let alone tolerance — of tax increases likely won’t materialize in 2010.

Meanwhile, the Republican candidates for governor — and the Senate and the House — can run campaigns based on the need for checks and balances against the DFL raising taxes.

Spectacular for Pawlenty and the Republicans, indeed.


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