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House approves unallotment reform bill

Betsy Sundquist//May 13, 2010

House approves unallotment reform bill

Betsy Sundquist//May 13, 2010

Lyndon Carlson
Lyndon Carlson

The Minnesota House this afternoon approved a bill that would substantially alter the authority of the governor to “unallot” funds from the general fund budget.

House members voted 87-43 to approve HF 2866, which would cap the amount that a governor could unallot at 2 percent of the general fund appropriations for the biennium. The bill also would limit the unallotment amount in a single general fund appropriation to 10 percent and would prohibit complete elimination of a program using unallotment.

The bill, authored by Rep. Lyndon Carlson, DFL-Crystal, gained momentum in the waning days of the 2010 legislative session after the Minnesota Supreme Court last week ruled that Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s unallotment of a $5.3 million program for low-income seniors was unconstitutional.

Though the high court didn’t specifically overturn all $2.7 million of the governor’s June 2009 unallotments, the implication was he had overstepped his authority on all the unallotments, not just the nutrition program.

“Protecting the Constitution is not a partisan issue, and I would hope it doesn’t become one,” Carlson said in explaining the bill on the floor today.

Several House members, all Republicans, spoke out against Carlson’s bill. The main objection: If the governor isn’t allowed to unallot more than 2 percent of the budget, how will he or she guarantee a constitutionally mandated balanced state budget if the Legislature doesn’t approve one?

Rep. Paul Kohls, R-Victoria, called the bill “misguided.”

“Let’s assume that we have a governor who is very strong-willed who says he will not sign a tax increase,”  Kohls said. “And let’s assume we have a Legislature that insists on sending him tax increases. So we get to the end of the budget year, and we don’t have a balanced budget. What would this bill require the governor to do?”

Carlson said the bill stipulates that the unallotment limits would kick in only after the Legislature had passed a balanced budget.

Rep. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, and Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan, also spoke out forcefully against the bill, saying that it would hamstring the executive branch of government in setting limits on the governor, and Rep. Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, called it the legislation “quite restrictive.”

Rep. Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, urged members to approve the bill.

“Do you want one person making all these budget decisions, or do you think the ones you elected to come here and represent you should be the ones making the decisions?” he asked. “I think the governor should still have the ability to unallot in emergency situations, but what Rep. Carlson is trying to do is make sure that if it gets beyond a certain level, a balanced government makes these decisions. I think that’s appropriate.”

The Senate has yet to approve the unallotment reform legislation.

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