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Cities won't sue over unallotment

ST. PAUL - Gov. Tim Pawlenty announces on the first day of Minnesota's new budget cycle just what he will cut from the budget.

There should be no surprises, only little changes from what he said he could trim a couple of weeks ago. But that official announcement on Wednesday opens the door for lawsuits from groups the cuts affect.

Don't count the League of Minnesota Cities among those who may take Pawlenty to court, even though cities takes a bigger hit than most groups.

The league's new president, Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede, said just before he took office Thursday that his group would not sue.

"The perception of spending public money" to sue the governor would not go over well, Brede said.

Many groups affected by the "unallotment" cuts are considering lawsuits, but there is no rush forward to announce court action.

An exception is Republican activist and Web site publisher Bob Carney Jr., who said he plans to sue Pawlenty over canceling a $10.7 million program that provides state refunds to people who make political contributions.

Democrats, especially, say the Republican governor's action to unilaterally cut the state budget is at least pushing the law. Some outright say it breaks the state law that was designed to let a governor make cuts when it becomes obvious not enough money is coming in to fund all the state's programs.

Pawlenty is making his third unallotment (out of six in Minnesota history), but this is the first time at the beginning of a budget. And it is 10 times larger than any previous unallotment.

The governor says the action is needed because lawmakers passed bills spending $2.7 billion more than is available in state revenues.

Free letters

A bill co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., would provide free mail from military personnel overseas to their family members back home.

The House passed the measure 389-22. It still needs Senate approval.

"The families of our service members, in a very tangible way, serve alongside their loved ones throughout their deployment," Paulsen said. "This bill is just one small, but important, way we can help them stay in touch with their loved ones when they are far away from home."

A boost

Children young than 8 and shorter than 4-foot-9 must ride in a child safety or booster seat under a law effective Wednesday, a law many in the Capitol connect to a Moorhead girl hurt in a 2008 accident.

The Department of Public Safety reports that just 30 percent of children in Minnesota use booster seats. Current law only requires children up to 4 to ride in the children's seats.

Booster seats lift up a child to allow seat belts to better protect him.

"Children who are shorter than 4 feet 9 simply aren't tall enough to use a seat belt alone, if they do, a belt may do more damage than good in case of a crash," said Heather Darby, state child passenger safety coordinator.

Earlier this year, legislators heard from Dixie Duncan of Moorhead, who told about her daughter. Brynn Duncan was hurt in a Fergus Falls accident less than a year ago; she was not in a safety seat and suffered severe spinal cord injuries.

"The booster seat would have prevented her injury," Dixie Duncan said.

Fed money arrives

The Minnesota Commerce Department has nearly $22 million of federal money to spend on energy efficiency improvements for homes, businesses and government buildings.

It is one installment of a $54.1 million promise from the federal government.

"We are excited to be among the first states to have their plans approved and we hope to get these projects moving as soon as possible," said Bill Glahn, director of the state Office of Energy Security. "We are ahead of the nation when it comes to benchmarking our public buildings for energy efficiency improvements, so we already know where to get the most bang for the buck."

South Dakota was the only other state in the region to get to get the first grants.

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.