Last week, State Senator Julianne Ortman appeared on a panel at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota to discuss the State Supreme Court ruling that Governor Tim Pawlenty’s $2.7 billion in preemptive unallotments was illegal.
Ortman made a rather remarkable claim in the discussion:
“I think it was a quintessentially activist decision in a 4-3 court. And it seems to be rather reckless if you think about what the logical outcome is. The logical outcome is we can have a constitutional budget crisis in the next few months,” Ortman said.
Let’s parse this out, shall we?
“quintessentially activist decision in a 4-3 court” : We all know that calling a judicial decision “activism” has become essentially meaningless. “Judicial activism” really means “I don’t like the decision”. And what about the 4-3 Court that decided this case? The deciding vote (and the one who wrote the majority opinion) was a Pawlenty appointee. There’s not a single Democratic appointee on the state Supreme Court.
“The logical outcome is we can have a constitutional budget crisis in the next few months”: Logical? What Ortman doesn’t realize is that the constitutional budget crisis already happened and the State Supreme Court resolved it. Governor Pawlenty illegally unallotted $2.7 billion before a budget had even been enacted. Ortman’s position in favor of Pawlenty’s unallotment means that she thinks it’s perfectly OK for the governor to cut the legislature out of the budgeting process. One has to wonder what she thinks her role is, then? (And does anyone doubt that if had been a Democratic governor doing the unallotments that her position would be exactly the reverse?)
The State Constitution clearly lays out that the power of the purse primarily lies within the legislative branch. The State Constitution also clearly lays out a process for what happens if the legislature and governor can’t come to a budget agreement — a statewide property tax is assessed to make up the difference. So there’s no crisis. Just some serious negotiating to be done. The State Supreme Court has made it clear that no one branch has the authority to act unilaterally.
You would think that folks who like to talk about their fidelity to the Constitution might want to actually read it once in a while to see what’s actually in there.
Fortunately, for all of us, there’s a real alternative to the sort of quintessentially partisan behavior offered by Ortman.