Legislative session ends without budget solution

Gov. Pawlenty has threatened to cut funding himself to solve the state’s budget problems

by Devin Henry

The Legislative session ended Monday night without a budget agreement between the DFL-controlled Legislature and Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, paving the way for the governor to make good on his threat to cut spending himself in the coming months. Last week, Pawlenty said he would sign all of the LegislatureâÄôs spending bills, veto provisions in them and utilize the rarely-used power of unallotment âÄî cutting state spending should revenue fall below what is budgeted âÄî to solve any budget shortfall should the Legislature not come to an agreement. Late Monday night, the Legislature passed a tax bill which is certain to be vetoed by the governor. Pawlenty and legislative leaders project a $2.7 billion difference between state funding obligations and state revenue over the next two years. âÄúPeople want to see decisive action and an end to this process,âÄù Pawlenty said at a Thursday press conference flanked by House Republicans. Senate Minority Leader David Senjem compared the plan to a family living within its means. âÄúItâÄôs a rather simple concept, and itâÄôs a simple concept weâÄôre going to bring to state government,âÄù Senjem, R- Rochester, said at the press conference. Already a victim of PawlentyâÄôs veto pen: $24 million for a new Bell Museum of Natural History on the University of MinnesotaâÄôs St. Paul campus. Pawlenty vetoed the project for the second year in a row over the weekend. He had asked lawmakers to defer projects that were not specifically repair projects to next year’s session. Pawlenty also signed the higher education funding bill over the weekend, vetoing $2.5 million from the more than $3 billion package. After more than $4.3 million in stimulus money is used, the bill brings a two percent funding cut to higher education, Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said a Saturday meeting of a committee made up of House and Senate leaders. Should Pawlenty follow through on his plan to unallot, University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks said he expects a $220 million cut to the UniversityâÄôs budget over the next two years, bringing state funding to 2006-07 levels of $1.2 billion. The University receives $74 million in federal stimulus money in the higher education funding bill, more than half of which will be used to reducing an increase in tuition, Bruininks said at Saturday’s meeting. âÄúYou can see that itâÄôs a very, very challenging thing to take $220 million out, have roughly $90 million to address it, and have about 60-65 percent of that dedicated to one purpose, and that is the mitigation of tuition increases,âÄù Bruininks said. With a possible unallotment, Bruininks said the University could shed 500-750 jobs or tuition could go up by 15 percent each of the next two years. âÄúI think that would be an intolerably high level for our students and families to sustain,âÄù he said. The last time the Legislature cut funding to the University was in 2003, when it cut more than $206 million. Tuition increased 14 percent the next school year.