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Mediation ordered to work out legislative, gubernatorial funding dispute

By Mike Cook
The State Office Building houses members and staff of the House of Representatives. A state Supreme Court ruling Friday orders mediation to keep the institution funded.

The Minnesota Supreme Court has ordered the Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton to use mediation to resolve a funding dispute.

In an opinion issued Friday, the court also ruled that Dayton’s use of the line-item veto to strip biennial funding for the Legislature was constitutional.

“This conclusion, however, does not end the matter,” wrote Chief Justice Lorie Gildea.

Both sides are to agree on a mediator and report that person’s name to the court by 4 p.m. Tuesday. One will be designated by the court if the parties cannot agree.

A negotiation status report will be due the court by Sept. 30. If no resolution is reached by then, a “date by which the mediation will be concluded” is to be provided.

There were no dissenting opinions. Associate Justice David Stras “took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.”

After the Legislature adjourned following a late-May special session, the DFL governor line-item vetoed $128 million in spending for the Republican-controlled House and Senate. Dayton’s action was aimed at bringing lawmakers back to the negotiating table over a handful of provisions in an omnibus tax law he found objectionable. Dayton signed the tax and state government finance laws, but said he did so only to avoid a large-scale government shutdown like the one experienced in 2011.

The governor was upset lawmakers included a so-called “poison pill” that would have denied funding for the Revenue Department if the tax law was vetoed.

“Our Constitution requires ‘three distinct departments: legislative, executive and judicial,’” Gildea wrote. “The particular circumstances here, where the Legislature adjourned before its appropriation became law, the Governor vetoed the Legislature’s appropriation, and the two Branches have remained at an impasse since then, raise doubts about the continuing function of the Legislative Branch.

“The other Branches should resolve these doubts through the political process. Thus far, they have not done so. As a result, Minnesotans may soon be deprived of their constitutional right to three independent branches of government … each functioning at a level sufficient to allow the exercise of the constitutional powers committed to each branch for the ‘security, benefit and protection of the people, in whom all political power is inherent.’

“Constitutional powers may not be used ‘to accomplish an unconstitutional result.’”

House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa) said in a joint statement they are pleased the decision recognizes that Minnesotans should have a functional legislative branch.

"Today's order did not decide the case or vacate the lower court's ruling, and we are ready to go to mediation to secure funding for the legislative branch of government. We worked in good faith in the past to attempt to breach this impasse, and will work in good faith again as we look ahead to the mediation process.”  

In a statement, Dayton said he proposed mediation when issuing his May 30 veto, but said legislative leaders preferred litigation.

“I remain ready and very willing to engage in those negotiations immediately. I have asked my legal team to contact their legislative counterparts to begin to resolve this matter.”

The state’s highest court heard oral arguments Aug. 28 in the case of Dayton’s appeal of a July lower court ruling that found his veto violated the state constitution.

A district court stipulation previously agreed to by both sides provides continued funding for the Legislature through Oct. 1, 2017.

“The extent of funding available to the Legislature without the parties’ stipulations and the district court’s June 26 and July 31 funding orders is unclear, as is the date by which that funding will be exhausted given actual expenditures after the start of this fiscal year and anticipated expenses before the next regular legislative session convenes,” Gildea wrote.

By Sept. 15, the House and Senate are to provide respective amounts of carryforward dollars as of July 1, 2017, and Sept. 1, 2017, and the date by which such funds will be exhausted.

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