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Legislative leaders will sue governor over line-item veto

By Ricky Campbell
House Speaker Kurt Daudt holds a copy of the court papers he said would be filed Tuesday in the Legislature’s dispute with Gov. Mark Dayton over his line-item veto of House and Senate funding. Photo by Paul Battaglia

Leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature are moving forward with their lawsuit against DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, believing the courts will settle a constitutional battle between the two branches of government after the governor line-item vetoed legislative funding for the upcoming biennium that begins July 1.

After hiring an outside legal team last week and closed-door talks Tuesday morning, lawmakers said they are filing the lawsuit in Ramsey County District Court against Dayton, who used the line-item veto May 30 as a way to bring Republicans back to the negotiating table for a number of provisions he already signed into law. The governor contends the Legislature used unfair tactics — tying Revenue Department funding in one bill with his signature on the tax bill — to force his hand.

In retaliation, Dayton struck funding for both the House and Senate operating budgets.

“If we’re going to do this, I’d rather settle it once and for all,” Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa) said after a closed-door meeting with Dayton, House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown), Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) and House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park).

Legislative funding includes paychecks for the 201 elected officials, approximately 400 staff, both partisan and nonpartisan, and other bills. The Senate, for instance, is paying for its new Senate Office Building; Daudt said failing to pay that bill could affect the state’s overall bond rating.

“This isn’t a political game that just might affect a few politicians,” Daudt said. “This affects our employees, their families, and ultimately could affect all Minnesotans if the legislative branch is grossly weakened by this action the governor has taken.”

Daudt said the House could use carryforward funds to operate for “somewhere between two and four months.”

Dayton said he used the line-item veto to bring Daudt and Gazelka back into negotiations over provisions in a few budget-related bills, including taxes on tobacco, business property and estates. Dayton is also concerned about barring undocumented residents from obtaining a driver’s license and changes to teacher licensure.

“They’re sticking with their position and I’m sticking with mine,” Dayton said.

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