Ramsey County District Judge Kathleen Gearin issued a temporary restraining order reinstating money for one food program for the poor, saying the governor "trod upon the constitutional authority of the Legislature" when he did an end run on the Legislature last summer by using his unallotment power to slice $2.7 billion in state government spending to balance the budget. A hearing on the matter will be held in March, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
"The authority of the governor to unallot is an authority intended to save the state in times of a previously unforeseen budget crisis," Gearin wrote. "It is not meant to be used as a weapon by the executive branch to break a stalemate in budget negotiations with the Legislature or to rewrite the appropriations bill."
The restraining order is directed at the food program but observers say it could have much wider impact, the newspaper said.
"This decision is a lightning bolt that the basic structure of Governor Pawlenty's budget may fall apart," University of Minnesota political science Professor Lawrence Jacobs said. "The governor will be exposed to what could be a protracted legal and political battle."
Pawlenty issued a statement saying he was "disappointed" by the ruling.
"We are weighing all of our options, including appeal, re-establishing unallotments under the current forecast, potential legislative action and other options," he said.
State House Speaker Anderson Kelliher, in a statement, called the ruling "a victory for all Minnesotans concerned about the overreach of executive authority."