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Dayton, legislative leaders have their day in court over funding issue

By Jonathan Mohr

Lawyers for Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders met in a Ramsey County court Monday to argue the merits of a lawsuit over the governor’s May line-item veto of money meant fund the House and Senate for the next two years.

Appearing before Chief Judge John H. Guthmann, each side made its case – the plaintiffs alleging Dayton’s veto violated the Separation of Powers clause of the state’s constitution and the governor’s attorney, Sam Hanson, arguing the veto authority was used correctly.

Lawmakers have said the Senate would be forced to cease operations July 28 – and the House Sept. 1 – if the $128 million appropriation to fund the Legislature during the next fiscal biennium, which begins July 1, is not restored. 

However, both parties filed a document with the court last Friday asking the judge to grant a temporary injunction that would allow legislative funding to continue until Oct. 1, or the lawsuit is settled.

This would postpone the need to furlough more than 400 full-time staff, and allow rent payments on the Minnesota Senate Building to continue. Should those payments cease, the state’s credit rating could fall.

Both attorneys said Monday negotiations between the governor and the Legislature have reached an impasse and will likely not resume until the constitutionality of the veto is decided by the courts.

They asked Guthmann, who was appointed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty in 2008 and elected in 2010 and reelected in 2016, to include that 90-day injunction with his ruling on the constitutionality of the veto.

The judge issued no ruling Monday, but said he would take the matter under advisement.

In a briefing shortly after the hearing, House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) said he believes the court will move swiftly and feels confident the additional 90 days of funding would be approved by the end of the week.

Daudt said Republican legislative leaders are “confident the court will rule in our favor” but would definitely appeal if they lost.

The Legislature’s position

In documents filed last week, the Legislature’s legal counsel, Doug Kelley, said “irreparable harm” will be done to it and the people of Minnesota if the court does not require funding to be restored.

If not reversed, Republican lawmakers argue the line-item veto would “effectively eliminate the legislative branch” and say they are unable to override it because the Legislature has adjourned until 2018 and can only be called back for a special session by the governor.

Kelley said the governor’s veto essentially “obliterated” the Legislature for the next two years, calling it “improper and impermissible.” He also read from the letter Dayton included with his veto, saying it made clear the governor’s action was not because he disagreed with the Legislature’s funding but because he wanted to force further negotiations on other issues.

“We believe you have to object to something to veto it,” Kelley said.

The governor’s position

In a memorandum filed with the court, Dayton’s lawyers argue the vetoes are authorized by the constitution and were exercised “to maintain separation of powers, not violate it.”

They say the Legislature attempted to “suppress” the governor’s constitutional authority by placing a “poison pill” in the omnibus tax bill that would have denied appropriations to the Department of Revenue if Dayton vetoed the bill.

This forced the governor to sign that bill, they say, but because of concerns about the impact the legislation would have on the state’s financial stability – and to renegotiate other “policy issues of concern” – Dayton then vetoed the legislative appropriations after the House and Senate had “chosen” to adjourn.

Hanson said Monday the plaintiff’s argument “is built on the false premise” that it’s been left without funding by the governor’s actions. He said lawmakers can seek funding for core operations from the courts, as has been done in the past.

“You don’t have the constitutional right to an appropriation,” Hanson said. “You do have the right to funding. Nothing the governor did changes that.”

Judge Guthmann seemed to hint on several occasions that both sides could benefit from bringing a third party, perhaps a retired judge, to arbitrate the matter.

But both lawyers said a ruling from the court was needed.

“We’re not going anywhere here unless you solve this question for us,” Kelley said.


House Public Information Services writer Ricky Campbell contributed to this story

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