Gov. Tim Pawlenty promised Thursday to bring Minnesota's deficit-ridden budget back into balance on his own if the session ends Monday without an accord, using line-item vetoes and executive powers to shave billions in spending.
"There will be no special session. There will be no government shutdown," Pawlenty said at a news conference flanked by fellow Republicans, who vowed to uphold any vetoes.
Pawlenty held out the possibility of a negotiated agreement, but said he was prepared to use vetoes, payment suspensions and so-called unallotment to cut the two-year budget to $31 billion. That's about $3 billion smaller than the slate of spending bills sent to him.
The move infuriated Democrats who run the Legislature. House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher of Minneapolis dubbed Pawlenty "Governor Go It Alone." Pawlenty shot back that without the step Kelliher would be "Speaker Special Session."
"There will be no public hearings. There will be no public input. There will just be a governor alone with unelected people whispering in his ear of what to cut and what not to cut," Kelliher said, calling it "bullying."
The consequences could be severe.
Health and welfare programs for poor and disabled Minnesotans, colleges and local governments dependent on state aid would face the deepest cuts, the governor indicated. He would also consider delaying payments bound for schools.
Pawlenty plans to sign the budget bills sent to him and work backward. He said he would withhold details on his specific cuts for now.
Minnesota faces a projected shortfall of $4.6 billion over the next two years, a problem that would be worse if not for federal stimulus dollars.
Pawlenty said his administration had been working on the contingency plan for some time but didn't think he would need to employ it. Talks between he and legislative leaders have sputtered, mainly over how to find at least $1 billion in new revenue.
Pawlenty had proposed borrowing against future tobacco settlement payments, but Democrats and many Republicans balked because it would cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars more to repay the bonds.
The governor wouldn't budge on his opposition to taxes and vetoed a plan reliant on alcohol taxes, credit card company surcharges and new income taxes on the highest-paid Minnesotans.
Democrats haven't ruled out putting the tax-bill veto to an override. But they need to attract support from at least three House Republicans to prevail - something Pawlenty and GOP leaders said they were certain wouldn't happen.
House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, said Pawlenty's backup plan can be avoided if the sides get back to the bargaining table.
"The door is open and the phone is on if the Democrats are interested in working on a balanced budget," Seifert said.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)