CHICAGO — The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled yesterday that Gov. Tim Pawlenty exceeded his executive powers in using his unallotment authority to slash the fiscal 2010-11 budget sent to him by lawmakers last year, a finding that raises questions over the legality of $2.7 billion in spending cuts made by the governor.

In a split ruling, the court upheld a Ramsey County District Court decision that favored six residents who challenged the governor’s $5.4 million cut to a special state nutrition program for the elderly and disabled.

The state’s high court found that the special diet program’s cuts were “unlawful and void.” It was not immediately clear, however, how the ruling would affect all $2.7 billion in cuts Pawlenty made to the Legislature’s $57 billion budget last year.

“The unallotment statute provides the executive branch with authority to address an unanticipated deficit that arises after the legislative and executive branches have enacted a balanced budget,” the decision read.

“The statute does not shift to the executive branch a broad budget-making authority allowing the executive branch to address a deficit that remains after a legislative session because the legislative and executive branches have not resolved their differences,” the ruling said.

With the state already facing a shortfall of more than $500 million in its budget, it would find itself awash in red ink if all $2.7 billion in cuts were reversed.

Pawlenty called on lawmakers to approve the controversial cuts made after he failed to reach an agreement with lawmakers on how to fully close a $4.6 billion deficit.

“I strongly disagree with this 4-to-3 decision by the court,” he said in a statement. “Nonetheless, it will require the Legislature and my administration to address its budget impacts. The funds do not exist to reinstate my unallotments and the state budget needs to be balanced without raising taxes. I call upon the DFL-controlled Legislature to ratify the unallotments I enacted last year.”

Pawlenty is a Republican and the Legislature’ is controlled by the state’s Democrat Farm Labor Party.

The court’s decision comes just one day after Pawlenty pressed lawmakers to trim $500 more from the current budget before they adjourn later this month to wipe out a remaining deficit.

The governor warned he would again use his unallotment authority if lawmakers don’t act.

Pawlenty’s cuts last year included $300 million in local government aid, $236 million in health and human services programs, and $100 million from higher education aid.

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