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Minnesota top court nixes governor's budget cuts

   Tim Pawlenty
Tim Pawlenty

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty exceeded his authority when he cut spending last year, the state supreme court said in a ruling on Wednesday that will leave the state with a big budget hole.

The Republican governor touched off a legal challenge when he used his so-called unallotment power to remove nearly $2.7 billion from the $34 billion two-year budget in June to deal with falling revenue.

"Because the legislative and executive branches never enacted a balanced budget for the 2010-2011 biennium, use of the unallotment power to address the unresolved deficit exceeded the authority granted to the executive branch by the statute," the ruling stated.

Pawlenty said he disagreed with the 4-3 court ruling and called on the Democrat-Farm-Labor Party-controlled legislature to ratify the budget cuts he made last year.

"Nonetheless (the ruling) will require the legislature and my administration to address its budget impacts. The funds do not exist to reinstate my unallotments and the state budget needs to be balanced without raising taxes," the governor said in a statement.

The ruling followed a December Ramsey County Court decision that stopped the state from reducing funding to a supplemental aid special diet program that had been part of the unallotments, but more importantly, said the governor usurped the legislature's authority to make laws, including appropriations.

"Today Tim Pawlenty's overreach was overthrown by the enduring principles of democratic governance. The checks and balances created by our constitution have again tipped the balance back in favor of the people of Minnesota," said State Representative Ryan Winkler, a Democrat-Farm-Labor Party member from Golden Valley, in a statement.

On Tuesday, Pawlenty unveiled a plan to address a lingering $536 million budget deficit due mostly to uncertainty over $408 million he was counting on in enhanced federal Medicaid matching funds. Other states beside Minnesota have included those funds in their budgets, but the plan has yet to be passed by Congress.

Pawlenty called for cutting spending to local governments and other programs and tapping a trust fund.

(Reporting by Karen Pierog; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

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