Pawlenty at the bridge

After routing Republicans in the elections of 2006 and 2008, Democrats hold a substantial majority in both houses of the Minnesota legislature. As the recession contracted state revenues forecast for the coming biennium, Minnesota Democrats succumbed to a tax raising mania. They sought to raise the top rate of Minnesota’s already high income tax to 9 percent and impose a variety of new taxes. Governor Pawlenty held his ground and vetoed the tax bills, while the hardy Republican minority stuck together in the legislature to sustain him.
Having vetoed the Democrats’ tax bills, Governor Pawlenty balanced the state budget himself through a combination of line item vetoes and unallotments. It all added up to a dramatic story that caught the attention of the Wall Street Journal’s Kimberly Strassel. The heading of Strassel’s column went to the heart of the story: “A governor and his veto pen.”
Strassel noted that the Democrats included in the bottomless fount of their tax raising ideas the elimination of the $10,000 deduction for expenses related to organ donation. What a perfect rallying cry for Minnesota Democrats: Close the organ donation loophole!
Actually, Minnesota Democrats would prefer to claim they are compelled or supported in their foolish ways by a higher authority, and Ramsey Country District Judge Kathleen Gearin has descended from the heavens to be their dea ex machina. In a laughable December 30 decision granting a temporary restraining order, Judge Gearin held that Governor Pawlenty illegally exercised his unallotment authority at the end of the legislative session this past spring.
Judge Gearin necessarily concedes that the unallotment statute is constitutional and that it grants the governor unallotment authority, but holds that he exercised the power in a manner unintended by the legislature. The opinion is so badly written and poorly reasoned that it is difficult to discern the basis for it. It wouldn’t get a passing grade for a law student in a decent law school legal writing course.
Under the statute in issue, the legislature delegated plenary authority to the governor when “the commissioner [of revenue] determines that probable receipts for the general fund will be less than anticipated, and that the amount available for the remainder of the biennium will be less than needed[.]” See Minn. Stat. 16A.152, Subds. 4(a) and (b). The commissioner of revenue made the necessary determination and the governor exercised his unallotment authority pursuant to it.
If the statute is constitutional, as Judge Gearin concedes it is, the only question is whether the governor exercised the plenary authority granted him under it. Notably lacking in her decision, however, is any quotation from or analysis of the relevant statutory language. I’m sure that her musings on the Constitution and separation of powers provide Judge Gearin with tremendous gratification, but she doesn’t demonstrate that they have anything to do with the issue before her.
Govenor Pawlenty announced that he would appeal Judge Gearin’s ruling at a December 31 press conference that is accessible by podcast here. Governor Pawlenty took issue with the decision in his usual reasonable style and threw in a little press criticism to boot. The drama in Minnesota continues.


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