Minnesota House of Representatives

Menu

Public Information Services Menu

Unallotment upheaval

Published (2/18/2010)
By Patty Ostberg
Share on: 



Floodwood Mayor Jeff Kletscher tells the House Local Government Division Feb. 15 the effect additional cuts to local government aid will have on services to his city’s 530 residents. Minneapolis City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, right, also spoke of the potential consequences to the state’s largest city. (Photo by Tom Olmscheid)While nearly every state has some sort of constitutional law regarding unallotment, Minnesota is one of a dozen states that gives unchecked gubernatorial power to eliminate expenditures to prevent an anticipated budget deficit.

It is a process that some say gives too much power to the governor and not enough to the Legislature in making budgetary decisions.

Rep. Lyndon Carlson, Sr. (DFL-Crystal) believes the unallotment statute needs to be modernized to bring a budgetary balance of power to the three branches of government. Current law “provides more power than a good governor should want or bad governor should have,” he said.

He sponsors HF2866 that would limit the expenditure amounts the governor can eliminate to no more than 2 percent of General Fund appropriations in a biennium. Also, unallotments could not go beyond 10 percent of any appropriation, and would be limited to any portion of a projected deficit that was not known at the completion of the legislative session.

The governor also could not change eligibility requirements or modify formulas for programs, under the bill. Temporary suspension of payments or deferrals beyond the biennium would also be considered as part of the total sum of unallotment.

Also, the Legislative Commission on Planning and Fiscal Policy would replace the Legislative Advisory Commission as the group the executive branch must consult with before making unallotment reductions.

Carlson said the change is needed because the LCPFP is made up of both majority and minority parties, unlike the LAC which is comprised of the majority party.

“We would also have a larger membership as a result of that, and also both caucuses would be represented,” he said.

The bill would take effect the day following enactment, so as not to interfere with the current Supreme Court case challenging one of Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s 2009 unallotments, Carlson added.

The House State and Local Government Operations Reform, Technology and Elections Committee approved the bill Feb. 17 and sent it to the House Finance Committee, which Carlson chairs. A companion, SF2566, sponsored by Sen. Richard Cohen (DFL-St. Paul), awaits action by the Senate Finance Committee.

Who has the power?

David Schultz, a professor in the Hamline University School of Business, said there are several problems with how unallotment is currently structured.

Consider this scenario: the Legislature decides to fund a program, the governor vetoes it, and the Legislature overrides the veto. The governor could still use unallotment to eliminate the program. Essentially, the current process allows for a second veto by a governor, Schultz said.

Unallotment could also arguably violate the separation of powers clause of the Minnesota Constitution in terms of taking away budgetary powers from the Legislature that it ought to have, while giving wide-open discretion to the governor on what, how and when he wants to unallot, Schultz explained.

“The Legislature needs to take back, and to have for itself, its constitutionally enumerated or delegated powers to be able to assume its responsibilities over the budget,” Schultz said.

Rep. Mark Buesgens (R-Jordan) said that while the current statute may be a matter of philosophical differences, allowing only fixed percentages could possibly force a governor to call a special session if the amount unallotted would not solve the budget deficit. The Minnesota Constitution only allows a governor to call a special session, and forcing a governor to call one to fix a budget deficit would shift the constitutional balance. “It’s unconstitutional in nature,” he said.

Schultz said the Legislature could set limits on when the governor could unallot — such as only when the Legislature is able to convene — or give the Legislature ample opportunity when it does reconvene to override the governor’s unallotment.

‘Special’ power to the people

Carlson also sponsors HF2577 that, upon approval of a constitutional amendment by state voters, would give legislators the authority to call a time-limited special session. Supporters say the change could reduce the gridlock when governing bodies cannot agree because the governor could not use a special session as a bargaining chip as in years past, Carlson said. Only 18 other states have special sessions called by their governor, he noted.

Buesgens called the bill a “knee-jerk reaction” to the continued frustration of legislators over the ending of last session that resulted in Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s controversial unallotments. “The balance of power we have now has worked very, very well for over 150 years,” he said.

The bill was approved by the government operations committee Feb. 18, and sent to the House Finance Committee. A companion, SF2260, sponsored by Cohen, awaits action by the Senate State and Local Government Operations and Oversight Committee.

Carlson noted other legislators have suggested a total repeal of the governor’s unallotment power, but bond houses actually look more favorably on states that allow for it because it helps guarantee, in a time of fiscal crisis, that adjustments can be made to a budget. Another suggestion was requiring legislative approval for unallotment, but he said that could constitutionally violate the separation of powers.

“This does not fix the situation,” said Rep. Steve Gottwalt (R-St. Cloud). “It doesn’t get us on a path towards figuring out our systemic and continuing budget deficit that is largely the result of too much spending and not enough commitment to right-sizing government.”

Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Mpls) responded, “This is about the responsibility of the executive branch and the legislative branch. We’re gonna have Democratic and Republican governors and maybe third-party governors well into the future, and that’s what this is about.”

The 1939 Legislature first gave unallotment power to the governor, and it has been used a handful of times since.

According to the Legislative Reference Library, “Over the past thirty years, the unallotment procedure has been used by three governors: Al Quie in 1980 ($195 million) and in 1981 (local government aid payments were unallotted in November and December 1981 and were reallotted and paid by February 26, 1982), Rudy Perpich in 1986 ($109 million), and Tim Pawlenty in 2003 ($281 million), 2008 ($269 million), and 2009 ($2.68 billion).”

Session Weekly More...


Session Weekly Home



Related Stories


Interim Update: Disaster relief enacted
Brief special session ends with $80 million flood, storm aid package
(view full story) Published 10/19/2010

Never a dull moment
Surprises, challenges mark unusual 2010 legislative session
(view full story) Published 6/1/2010

RIP: Bills that didn’t make it
Some die quietly, others go out with a bang
(view full story) Published 6/1/2010

Art of compromise is the heart of politics
Bipartisan teamwork builds better bills
(view full story) Published 6/1/2010

Reformer at heart
Brod walking away from the Legislature, but will keep putting out new ideas
(view full story) Published 6/1/2010

One more goal in his playbook
Emmer leaving House in hopes of scoring the state’s top job
(view full story) Published 6/1/2010

Retiring from public service — again
After helping others for 48 years, Haws to focus on family needs
(view full story) Published 6/1/2010

Fulfilling her ‘deal’
Kelliher leaving House after a dozen years, maybe not the Capitol
(view full story) Published 6/1/2010

Excited for a new opportunity
Kohls leaves the House with fond memories, optimism about future
(view full story) Published 6/1/2010

Agriculture advocate bids adieu
Otremba stepping down after 13 years to focus on family, friends
(view full story) Published 6/1/2010

Minnesota Index: the 2010 session
Figures and statistics on the 2010 legislative session
(view full story) Published 6/1/2010

‘A decade is a long time’
Eastlund is ready to let someone else take the reins
(view full story) Published 5/6/2010

Magnus will run for state Senate
Says activist influences are detrimental to good of state
(view full story) Published 5/6/2010

First Hmong House member shifts focus
Thao’s family and business to get more of his time
(view full story) Published 5/6/2010

Erring on the side of openness
Open meeting law could include advisory board actions
(view full story) Published 4/29/2010

Demmer winds down fourth, final term
Former corn farmer plans to keep lending an ear to constituents
(view full story) Published 4/29/2010

Time for a change
Bigham takes a break from the House, but not from public service
(view full story) Published 4/22/2010

Leaving before his self-imposed limit
Severson looks to continue work on election reform as secretary of state
(view full story) Published 4/22/2010

Bumper pride
Specialty license plates generate pride, funds and headaches
(view full story) Published 4/15/2010

Seifert concludes 14-year House career
He’s strived to serve “conscience, constitution and constituents”
(view full story) Published 4/15/2010

Energized to follow a different path
Bar exam, ski trip are in Kalin’s immediate future
(view full story) Published 4/15/2010

Ensuring good management
Twelve legislators decide which programs legislative auditor will evaluate
(view full story) Published 4/8/2010

Legislative powers
Giving legislators a chance to call themselves into special session
(view full story) Published 4/8/2010

Unallotment upheaval
Potential modifications to governor’s power gets House committee approval
(view full story) Published 2/18/2010

Hard times hit home
As one lawmaker joins the ranks of the unemployed, House leaders push jobs proposals
(view full story) Published 2/11/2010

State of the State: Laying out his recovery plan
Pawlenty promotes tax cuts, job growth in final State of the State address
(view full story) Published 2/11/2010

Opening Day: 86th Legislative Session
House reconvenes and hits the ground running
(view full story) Published 2/4/2010

Minnesota Index: Session 2010
Figures and statistics on the 2010 legislative session
(view full story) Published 2/4/2010

First Reading: No easy fixes
The 2009 session ends with many questions left unanswered
(view full story) Published 5/29/2009

At Issue: State government funding signed
New law strengthens accountability of stimulus funds received by the state
(view full story) Published 5/29/2009

Governor's Desk
Bills not acted upon in 2009 could come to life in 2010
(view full story) Published 5/29/2009

Minnesota Index: 2009 session
Figures and statistics on the 2009 legislative session
(view full story) Published 5/29/2009

First Reading: Letting the sunshine in
Is the push to transparency clouding the session end game?
(view full story) Published 5/15/2009

At Issue: Budget cuts for state government
Conference committee removes some controversy from finance bill
(view full story) Published 5/15/2009

Minnesota Index: Government in Minnesota
Figures and statistics on state and local government
(view full story) Published 5/15/2009

First Reading: Hammering out an agreement
Conference committees have sometimes unpopular task of compromise
(view full story) Published 5/8/2009

Resources: From beginning to end
Tracking bills is just a mouse click away
(view full story) Published 5/8/2009

At Issue: Tightening the belt
Less funding, more accountability in omnibus state government finance bill
(view full story) Published 4/24/2009

First Reading: Protecting public dollars
Lawmakers push for better financial controls at state agencies
(view full story) Published 4/17/2009

At Issue: Making technology accessible
Lawmakers want to open state Web sites to individuals who are deaf, blind or hard-of-hearing
(view full story) Published 4/3/2009

First Reading: Looking to the past
Division hears New Deal‘s controversial story
(view full story) Published 2/27/2009

Feature: Getting an earful
Legislators fan out across the state to hear budget deficit problems, solutions
(view full story) Published 2/27/2009

New Member: From tragedy to high hopes
Hayden hopes to effect big change
(view full story) Published 2/20/2009

New Member: A passion for local issues
Reinert plans to be ‘an advocate and a partner’ for Duluth
(view full story) Published 2/20/2009

Feature: Is there a page in the House?
They ‘do what needs to be done’
(view full story) Published 2/13/2009

New Member: Former teacher returns
Davids is happy to be back after hiatus
(view full story) Published 2/13/2009

New Member: From NYC to Minnesota
Business brought Doepke to state, led to public service
(view full story) Published 2/13/2009

New Member: Keeping it local
Anderson wants to help constituents from a different chair
(view full story) Published 2/6/2009

New Member: Facing complex problems
For Champion, jobs are the starting point
(view full story) Published 2/6/2009

New Member: Planning for the future
Downey hopes to offer proactive ideas for state’s future
(view full story) Published 2/6/2009

New Member: 'Honesty, common sense'
‘Honesty, common sense’
(view full story) Published 2/6/2009

New Member: Altitude adjustment
Ag and water issues linked for Torkelson
(view full story) Published 2/6/2009

New Member: A young, rural voice
Falk to keep push for renewable energy policies
(view full story) Published 1/30/2009

New Member: A political education
After years of teaching about politics, Kath leads by example
(view full story) Published 1/30/2009

New Member: The deficit is top priority
Kelly promotes fiscal responsibility
(view full story) Published 1/30/2009

New Member: A global view in St. Paul
Mack was page, intern, now member
(view full story) Published 1/30/2009

New Member: Honored to serve
Sanders focuses on kitchen-table issues
(view full story) Published 1/30/2009

New Member: Waiting years for his seat
Sterner looks to prove his bipartisan background
(view full story) Published 1/30/2009

At Issue: Leading by example
At their own ‘House,’ legislators take cost-saving measures to heart
(view full story) Published 1/23/2009

New Member: Doing greater good
Jackson views public service as a calling
(view full story) Published 1/23/2009

New Member: A heritage of involvement
Kiffmeyer brings lifelong work ethic to her seat
(view full story) Published 1/23/2009

New Member: Passionate about business
Loon calls for economic recovery through job creation
(view full story) Published 1/23/2009

New Member: No shortcut to service
Newton relishes opportunity to make tough decisions
(view full story) Published 1/23/2009

New Member: Working to unite
Obermueller hopes to represent by connecting
(view full story) Published 1/23/2009

New Member: Walking the talk
Persell models stewardship of the environment
(view full story) Published 1/23/2009

New Member: Making a difference
Tired of complaining, Rosenthal decided to get involved
(view full story) Published 1/23/2009

New Member: Taking the chance
With open seat, Scott knew now is her time to serve
(view full story) Published 1/23/2009

At Issue: The state of our state
Tax cuts, wage freezes on governor’s list to help budget
(view full story) Published 1/16/2009

Feature: Opening day
Occasion gives legislators reason to pause, appreciate democracy at work
(view full story) Published 1/9/2009

At Issue: Beyond the budget
Assistant leaders optimistic about accomplishing more than solving the money woes
(view full story) Published 1/9/2009

Minnesota Index: Minnesota House 2009
Figures and statistics on the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2009.
(view full story) Published 1/9/2009

Public Information Services  ·   175 State Office Building, Saint Paul, MN 55155   ·   Public.Information@house.mn