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Lawmakers want to cut governor's power

Bills to restrict a governor's ability to unilaterally cut budgets are being introduced in the Minnesota Legislature, and the state Supreme Court says it will accept cities' input when it considers the issue this spring.

To balance the budget, Gov. Tim Pawlenty last summer cut $2.7 billion from the state budget shortly after the Legislature adjourned for the year, setting off lawmakers' cries that he was usurping their authority to set the state budget.

The bill being sponsored by House and Senate finance committee chairmen would limit how much a governor could cut, but it would not affect Pawlenty's 2009 actions.

"It is an effort by the Legislature to take some of its power back," Rep. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, said Wednesday.

The proposal by two Democrats, Sen. Dick Cohen of St. Paul and Rep. Lyndon Carlson of Crystal, would allow the so-called unallotment law to be used only on a portion of a projected deficit that was not known during the most recent legislative session. Democrats complain that Republican Pawlenty knew the deficit would occur before lawmakers went home last May.

The proposal forbids a governor from eliminating an entire program with unallotment and limits how much he can cut from any program.

"We're simply clarifying the role of the governor," Rep. Andrew Falk, DFL-Murdock, said.

Carlson said that if the bill had been law last summer, Pawlenty would not have been able to gain the biggest savings -- $1.8 billion by delaying state payments to schools.

Pawlenty's summer action inspired Democrats to change the law, which was enacted in 1939 and seldom used until recent years. It was written to allow a governor to cut spending when revenues came in lower than expected; backers say the changes still would allow that, but would prohibit massive budget changes as Pawlenty made.

The State Constitution requires a balanced budget.

Reinert said that having a part-time Legislature means the governor must have some ability to cut spending when needed.

The State Constitution gives the Legislature responsibility for passing a budget.

"He wrote a bad check," Falk said about Pawlenty, because he approved of legislative spending bills but did not sign a bill raising taxes to pay for.