Lawyers for Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican leaders of the Legislature painted vastly different pictures Thursday of the financial condition of the House and Senate following the governor’s veto of their budgets.
The DFL governor’s legal team filed a memo Thursday suggesting that the Legislature may be able to carry on without new funding until as late as August of 2018 — far later than what top GOP lawmakers initially claimed when they sued to overturn Dayton’s line-item veto.
In a separate memo, the Legislature’s attorneys argued that its financial picture is much bleaker, and that the governor’s veto has put the state’s legislative branch of government “under threat.”
The dueling memos, filed at the request of the Minnesota Supreme Court, show the two sides remain deeply divided two weeks after court-ordered mediation broke down — and months into a protracted, increasingly expensive legal fight that dates to May, when Dayton vetoed legislative funding amid a broader budget and policy dispute.
In the new memos, the two sides offered different theories of how the Legislature could — or could not — scrape together enough money to make it to late February, when a new legislative session convenes and lawmakers could attempt to pass a new budget for themselves.
In his memo, Dayton’s lead attorney Sam Hanson wrote that the Legislature could use millions of dollars in reserves carried over from its last budget, plus money from the budget of the Legislative Coordinating Commission, which oversees some functions of the Legislature and is funded separately from the House and Senate.
Hanson wrote that “given the availability to the House and Senate of significant funds ... the Governor’s vetoes did not accomplish an unconstitutional result.”
But Douglas Kelley, lead attorney for House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, wrote that the Legislature does not have access to all of those funds. Trying to force the Legislature to spend down its discretionary funding with money from what he called a separate entity violates the Constitution, Kelley wrote.
“[Dayton’s] stated aim was to coerce the Legislature into bending to his will by threatening their existence as a functioning body,” Kelley wrote. “Now, the governor contends the House and Senate should ignore the appropriations process and victimize the very agencies he allowed to be funded.”
The governor line-item vetoed House and Senate funding to bring GOP lawmakers back to the negotiating table.
The Legislature sued and won a lower-court decision. Dayton appealed and the state Supreme Court sided with him but declined to settle the matter until they attempted to mediate their differences.
Mediation failed after a day and a half.