Free Markets, Free People

Newspeak Update: Spending Cuts = Dictatorship

Bizarro world continues unabated. The logic behind this assertion is … uh, “subtle” to say the least (my emphasis):

First, on “constitutional dictatorship,” there is, somewhat surprisingly, Minnesota, where Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a favorite of the Repblican right wing (assuming there is anything else than a right wing in the GOP these days) is apparently going to use all of his powers under the Minnesota have exercised such powers, but Pawlenty’s exercise in unilateral government seems to be of a different magnitude. Perhaps we should view Minnesota as having the equivalent of a Weimar Constitution Article 48, the “emergency powers clause” that allowed the president to govern by fiat. Throughout the 1920s, it was invoked more than 200 times to respond to the economic crisis. Pawlenty is sounding the same theme, as he prepares to slash spending on all sorts of public services. The fact that this will increase his attractiveness to the Republican Right, for the 2012 presidential race that has already begun, is, of course, an added benefit, since one doubts that he is banking on a political future within Minnesota itself (which didn’t give him a majority at the last election; he was elected, as was Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, only because of the presence of third-party candidates). One might also look forward to whether he will refuse to certify Al Franken’s election to the Senate even after the Minnesota Supreme Court, like all other Minnesota courts, says that he has won. Whoever thought that Minnesota would be the leading example of a 21st-century version of “constitutional dictatorship” among the American states?

I don’t know who Sandy Levin, the author of the above screed, is but I have to believe he has become lost in his own rhetoric. We are honestly being asked to accept the premise that a Governor, using his constitutionally-approved and legislature-granted powers, is somehow a “dictator” for … slashing spending in a time of budget shortfalls?

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.


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.”

Apparently this is exactly what Levinson and the Minnesota left want us to believe — i.e. that using duly constituted powers is the equivalent of behaving as a dictator. How utterly ridiculous.

If this were a situation where the governor was unilaterally deciding to burden the taxpayers more, or he was singling out a particular group of people to bear the brunt of arbitrary government rules, I could see where the dissenters here would have a point. If the executive branch suddenly declared, without any legislative input, that English was the official language of Minn. and no other languages would be recognized anywhere in the state upon penalty of law, then, legally granted powers or not, I would understand and support Levinson et al.

Instead, the perfectly preposterous idea that balancing a state budget, using the very powers granted the governor to accomplish the task, is now deemed the equivalent of the Weimar Republic emergency powers (you know, the ones that allowed Hitler to declare himself supreme dictator over Germany).

To be sure, the focus of this vitriolic (and, I’d say, hysterical) attack on Pawlenty stems from his threatened use of “unallotment” powers:

The procedure exists under state statute, and “the first prerequisite to unallotment is that the Commissioner of Finance ‘determines that probable receipts for the general fund will be less than anticipated, and that the amount available for the remainder of the biennium will be less than needed.”

Then the ball is in the governor’s court:

“After the Commissioner of Finance determines that the amount available for the biennium is less than needed, the governor must approve the commissioner’s actions before the commissioner can either reduce the amount in the budget reserve or reduce allotments.”

The Legislature is consulted but does not have any power or ultimate say in the governor’s actions. The process starts at the beginning of the next fiscal biennium, which means that Pawlenty won’t enact anything until July 1. And what he’ll do is anyone’s guess.

“Depending on what he does with line-item vetoes, I figure we’ll see anywhere from a half a billion to $2 billion in unallotments,” Schultz said. “It’s unprecedented in dollar amount and in willingness to use it.”

Is it good policy or politics?

Schultz points out that unallotment is on the books for “emergency conditions” in which “the Legislature can’t do its job,” such as a budget forecast that comes out when lawmakers aren’t in session.

But in Schultz’s opinion, Pawlenty is “creating the emergency conditions that allow him to use it.”

“He appears to not want to negotiate in good faith,” Schultz offered. “Working with the Legislature is supposed to be a cooperative venture, not a take-it-or-leave-it one.”

The problem, of course, is that the legislature keeps sending a bill that proposes more spending than Minnesota’s revenues will allow. Because the governor and the legislature can’t agree on identifying new revenue sources (e.g. Leg. wants to tax the rich, Gov. wants to borrow against tobacco settlement), then the two sides are at an impasse. Despite what some might say, a proposed $3 billion deficit with no budget alternative in place does represent a fiscal emergency. After all, the money has to come from somewhere, or the services (giveaways, or whatever) will have to be cut, and the government may be forced to shut down. Why that doesn’t represent a fiscal emergency of the very type contemplated by the unallotment statute remains a bit of mystery for us less hysterical folks.

Jumping out the weeds, and regardless of how one might view the necessity of spending more or less via the Minnesota budget, I am simply flabbergasted that anyone could possibly suggest that forcing the government to spend less is in anyway, shape or form equivalent to dictatorship. To accept such premise is accept the idea that government spending is the sole source of freedom. I categorically reject any such notion. And if dictatorship is to be defined as standing in firm opposition to it, then sign me up.

17 Responses to Newspeak Update: Spending Cuts = Dictatorship

  • Lets put it this way…..Pawlenty is more within the letter and spirit of the law with his governance than Obama is with his.

    You sure Erb didn’t write that article?

    • Hate to disappoint you Shark,  but I’m with Pawlenty on this one.  

      • Hate to disappoint you Shark, but I’m with Pawlenty on this one. After all, if I admit that Pawlenty can use methods obviously within Minnesota’s constitution, then that gives me cover to advocate anything Obama wants to do, whether it’s constitutional or not.

        Count on it; when you dense righties start up about “abuse of executive power” by Obama, I’ll just smugly point to Pawlenty and accuse you of hypocrisy. Thus, it will be case close. There, don’t you wish you had the godlike powers of political science I possess to help you figure out these things?

  • As I recall, the same sort of thing happened back in the ’90s with the military base closure commission.  Congress, in a rare burst of honesty, realized and admitted that they were incapable of making the hard decisions about which military bases to close, so they handed it over to a non-partisan commission.

    And there was a wailing and a gnashing of teeth when that commission issued its recommendations as even the most pinko members of Congress railed against closing military bases… if they happened to be in their home districts / states.

    The Minnesota legislature gave the governor broad powers to balance the budget.  Now, they’re angry that he’s actually (gasp!) USING those powers.  To add insult to injury, he has the nerve to do it without consulting them!

    (O’ course, had they done their jobs right and balanced the budget in the first place, the governor would never had had to get involved in this way, but I’m sure that doesn’t matter to Kelliher and her fellow legislators).

    I can’t help but wonder why the legislature voted to give the governor these powers in the first place.  My guess is that, anticipating tough times, they wanted a mechanism to put the burden of making the tough choices – and any resulting blame – on the governor. 

    Profiles in courage, profiles in courage…

  • See, now, if he invented rules, and made sure he was goring the proper conservative (Republican) program oxes, there wouldn’t be any complaint.

    But I bet they think he’s going to go after social programs favored by the Democrats when he cuts things.
    Pawlenty delenda est!

  • The writer of this screed is merely upset that there is no where to go to force the Governor to agree with him.
    His efforts are further obstructed by the fact that the Governor is working within the limits defined by the Minnesota constitution.  He, like many on the spendthift side of the “normal” curve, want to punish the Governor for acting within the law.

    Imagine … a public official acting in a “legal” manner …  Gaia forbid.

  • Well, don’t forget all the anti-Obama rhetoric when he acted within rules given by the legislature on auto manufacturers and financial institutions.  People tend to exaggerate when attacking actions they disagree with.

    Pawlenty is doing what he has to do.   I still think a lot of people are in denial about how serious the situation is; this economic crisis is a game changing of momentous proportions.   States have to cut — and Pawlenty is setting himself up to be a potentially viable Republican nominee in, if not 2012, at least 2016.

    • Well, don’t forget all the anti-Obama rhetoric when he acted within rules given by the legislature on auto manufacturers

      Oh? And what rules were those? And on what authority?

      Erb! Here’s a clue: The US legislature didn’t have that authority either.

      • Why do you say that?

        • Isn’t managing industries unconstitutional?

          • What part of the constitution is being violated?

          • Lets see…

            Violations of Article I, Section 8, Paragraph 1, of the United States Constitution, “To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States,” by imposing taxes for purposes neither pursuant to the Enumerated Powers of the Federal Government (violating the 10th Amendment) nor “necessary and proper for carrying into Execution” those Powers, most of which taxes are not even for the “general Welfare of the United States” but constitute payments to private individuals and private businesses for their own benefit, in disregard of the burden imposed upon others and upon the future of the nation.

            Violations of Article I, Section 8, Paragraph 2, of the United States Constitution, “To borrow Money on the credit of the United States,” by borrowing money for purposes neither pursuant to the Enumerated Powers of the Federal Government (violating the 10th Amendment) nor “necessary and proper for carrying into Execution” those Powers, most of which purposes consist of payments to private individuals and private businesses for their own benefit, in disregard of the burden imposed upon others and upon the future of the nation.

    • Bwaaahahahaha – what rules?

      Citations, please.

      If they were following the LAWS we wouldn’t be having these discussions.

      Instead we’re treated to the idea that the junior debtors during a bankruptcy are suddenly entitled to preference over the senior ones, in contravention of normal practice.

      We’re treated to the President of the United States to firing the senior executive of a company – as was done with Wagoner.

      The United States government without National strategic interest, taking  over a company that is failing, to avoid having their favored voting blocs from taking it in the shorts during normal bankruptcy proceedings which would otherwise be covered by normal contract law.

      You’ll come around Mr. Erb, he just hasn’t gored one of your oxen yet.

  • I loved this reader comment to the original posting …

    Colorado’s government went from red to purple to blue with all the Dem California refugees coming here. However, you can hardly tell the difference in the state government because the voters have shot down nearly every Dem attempt to raise taxes and spending under TABOR. Dems without other people’s money to spend are simply “empathetic” Republicans.

    • And Republicans with other peoples’ money to spend become ‘compassionate conservatives’. It gets confusing.

      • I don’t see what’s so goddamn “compassionate” about bankrupting the nation and impoverishing the taxpayers.  Real conservatism, like Ron Paul’s, is what I would call compassionate.

  • Dave S., I don’t think those sections of the constitution have been violated.  Of course, the body to make that call would be the Supreme Court.  I suspect that if there are violations, someone will take it to court.