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Pawlenty plans for the worst

ST. PAUL -- The Pawlenty administration is making plans to manage the state budget in case this week's Minnesota Supreme Court ruling leads to a run on state funds.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty today ordered his commissioners to figure out payments they can delay. He gave them no deadline, but said they understood the urgency of the order, given the fact that the Legislature must adjourn by May 17.

At the same time, Republican Pawlenty for the first time hinted that he could call a special legislative session if he and Democratic legislative leaders do not reach a budget deal by the Legislature's constitutional deadline.

Pawlenty said much of the situation remains a gray area and he could offer no specific about how the state may deal with its newest financial problems.

The high court on Wednesday handed down a ruling that said Pawlenty acted illegally last summer when he cut $2.7 billion from the state's $30 billion, two-year budget.

Technically, the ruling was about a $5.3 million program that provides special diets to about 4,000 poor Minnesotans. But Pawlenty and other state leaders are treating it as if justices overthrew most of his actions.

The concern comes if other organizations that lost money decide to piggyback on the diet issue and demand money they would have received if Pawlenty had not made the cuts last summer when he was trying to balance the state budget. So far, local governments have indicated they do not plan to sue, but other groups may.

The governor wants the Legislature to just approve the spending cuts he made, known as unallotment. But Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, today said that there are not the votes to pass the plan in the Senate.

Pogemiller blamed the budget stalemate on Pawlenty's no-new-taxes stance and Pawlenty blamed Democrats' desire to raise taxes and spend more money.

Legislative leaders and Pawlenty met twice on Thursday. At mid-day today, the governor said he invited leaders to meetings today, but had not heard back.

Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.