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Minnesota Supreme Court takes up legislative funding battle

By Jonathan Avise
Gov. Mark Dayton enters the Minnesota Supreme Court chambers at the State Capitol on Monday for oral arguments in the Legislature's suit against him. Photo by Andrew VonBank

The fate of Gov. Mark Dayton’s legislative funding line-item veto now rests with the Minnesota Supreme Court.

The state’s highest court on Monday heard oral arguments in the case of Dayton’s appeal of a lower court ruling last month that found his veto violated the state constitution.

Hanging in the balance is a $128 million appropriation to the Republican-majority House and Senate that the DFL governor controversially cleaved from a state government funding law. At stake, too, are larger constitutional questions over the balance of power between the state’s executive and legislative branches.

It is unknown when a decision will be handed down. 

The veto was Dayton’s effort to bring lawmakers back to the negotiating table over a handful of provisions in an omnibus tax bill he found objectionable. Dayton signed the tax and state government finance laws following their passage during a late-May special legislative session, but said he did so only to avoid a large-scale government shutdown like the one experienced in 2011.

“This case comes down, clear and simple, to the language of the constitution, which gives me line-item veto authority,” Dayton said following the hearing.

The governor and his lawyers have argued his veto is supported by the constitution and that the Legislature suppressed his constitutional authority by placing a “poison pill” provision in the omnibus tax law that would have denied appropriations to the Department of Revenue if he had vetoed it.

The House and Senate have maintained that the governor’s line-item veto would “effectively eliminate the legislative branch” if it is upheld and that they are unable to override it because lawmakers have adjourned until February 2018 and only Dayton can call the Legislature back for a special session.

If the court rules in the Legislature’s favor, “It’s status quo — the governor still has all the power that he had,” Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa) said after the hearing. “If [the court] did rule in the governor’s favor, he suddenly has more power than he has ever had before.” 

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