Mediation ends 'abruptly'; legislative funding remains in question

By Mike Cook
House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka hold a news conference in front of the House Chamber Sept. 22 to address an impasse in mediation proceedings with Gov. Mark Dayton. Photo by Andrew VonBank

Mediation aimed at getting legislative leaders and Gov. Mark Dayton to agree on funding House and Senate activity ended Friday.

“After the parties extended significant efforts and exchanged proposals through a full day of mediation on the 21st and a half day on the 22nd, I concluded that the mediation was at impasse, the understandable views of the parties being irreconcilable,” former judge Rick Solum, the appointed mediator, wrote in a statement.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa) said Dayton “abruptly” ended talks.

“We're disappointed in his action on this, but that is his decision,” said Daudt. He said the governor “is angry because he didn’t completely eliminate the Legislature."

“They didn’t offer anything meaningful,” Dayton said, noting this is as angry as he’s been in 40 years of government.

WATCH Governor's statement on the breakup of mediation talks

A report has been submitted to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which earlier this month ordered the governor and legislative leaders use mediation to resolve a biennial funding dispute that has lingered for four months.

After the Legislature adjourned following a late-May special session, the DFL governor line-item vetoed $130 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 agreed to all of this,” Daudt said. “It was good policy. He signed it, it's done."

Gov. Mark Dayton shares his views Friday regarding an impasse in mediation proceedings with legislative leaders. Photo by Andrew VonBank

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

“I have said repeatedly that my reason for exercising my Constitutional line-item veto of some of the Legislature’s biennial appropriation was to require them to revise their tax bill, which I believe will seriously jeopardize Minnesota government’s future financial stability,” Dayton said. “Republican legislative leaders have said repeatedly that the reason for their lawsuit was to provide them with sufficient funds to operate in this biennium.”

WATCH Daudt, Gazelka react to the failure of mediation

Daudt said measures will be put in place to slow down legislative spending.

Calling the protracted standoff “a farce,” Dayton asserted legislative leaders knew all along they had enough money —including the use of House, Senate and Legislative Coordinating Commission funding — to fund the House and Senate until the 2018 session that is scheduled to begin Feb. 20.

Neither Daudt nor Gazelka said they believe they have enough votes to override the veto when the House and Senate reconvene. That would mean new funding would need to be passed and signed into law by Dayton.

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. Dayton will not drop his appeal.

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

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