The Minnesota Supreme Court on Thursday upheld Gov. Mark Dayton’s line-item veto of the Legislature’s 2018-19 operating budget.
Capping a legal battle that began in June, the ruling found that Dayton acted within his constitutional authority when he exercised the line-item veto in an effort to bring lawmakers back to the negotiating table over a handful of bills he had signed into law.
“We had hoped [the Supreme Court] would end this debacle, but they have not,” House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) said during a Legislative Coordinating Commission meeting.
Thursday’s ruling deals a major blow to legislative leaders who are scrambling to fund the House and Senate until the 2018 session convenes Feb. 20. Since lawmakers have access to other sources of funding, the court found the governor did not violate the state’s constitution by effectively abolishing the Legislature.
The court also said it does not have constitutional authority to order funding for the Legislature in the absence of an appropriation.
Dayton said in a statement he is “very pleased that the Supreme Court has upheld my line-item veto authority, which is established in the Minnesota Constitution.” It’s time, the governor said, to “agree that this dispute has been concluded and resume working together for the best interests of Minnesota."
Following the ruling, the commission — composed of leaders from both the House and Senate — adopted a resolution, as amended, to allow the House and Senate to access roughly $20 million in LCC carryforward funds intended for some joint, nonpartisan legislative offices. The move is intended to keep the Legislature operating until the 2018 session, when lawmakers can pass a new funding bill.
The resolution would also prohibit the use of those funds to make debt service payments to the Department of Administration on the two-year-old Minnesota Senate Building.
The dispute stems from disagreement between the governor and Republican legislative leaders at the conclusion of the 2017 session in May. Dayton asserts he exercised his constitutional right to line-item veto funding measures in eliminating $130 million in funding for the Legislature’s two-year budget. He did it, Dayton said, in order to spur lawmakers to negotiate the removal of five provisions from bills he had signed into law.
The Legislature filed suit following the governor’s veto. A Ramsey County District Court judge initially ruled Dayton’s actions violated the constitution. That ruling was overturned in the Supreme Court’s decision and deemed “null and void.”
In a statement, House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) called on lawmakers to resume negotiations with Dayton “as soon as possible.”
“Given the Governor’s clear legal victory, it is my hope that Republican leaders would finally come to the negotiations with a sincere willingness to compromise and work together,” she said.
The court’s decision appeared to catch House and Senate Republican leaders off-guard.
“I am shocked,” Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa) said during a news conference following the LCC meeting. “I never would have imagined that the courts would have ruled the way they did.”
Daudt said the court decision sets a dangerous precedent going forward.
Senate leaders have said the LCC carryforward funds may not be sufficient to pay legislators and staff until the 2018 session begins. Others have warned that missing payments on the Senate office building could harm the state’s credit rating.
But that, Daudt said, is not the Legislature’s responsibility.
“I want the governor to be held accountable for his actions,” he said.
As for the relationship between the Legislature and Dayton? Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) says he worries the acrimonious, months-long funding battle could prevent lawmakers from accomplishing much in the legislative session ahead.
“This will be the biggest do-nothing session we’ve ever seen,” he said, “if this environment we’re in between the Legislature and the executive branch is still as toxic as it is now.”
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