A Ramsey County judge has ordered the state of Minnesota to continue funding the state House and Senate through Oct. 1, ensuring that the Legislature can keep operating for at least three more months amid a legal battle with Gov. Mark Dayton.
The order from Ramsey County Chief Judge John H. Guthmann followed a Monday hearing in the Legislature's lawsuit against the governor. Attorneys for both sides told Guthmann that they were at a stalemate, with the Legislature arguing that Dayton's recent veto of legislative funding violated the constitutional separation of powers between branches of government and Dayton contending that his action was legal and appropriate.
With the Legislature's funding set to expire June 30, Guthmann signed off on a temporary fix agreed to by both Dayton and legislative leaders: telling the state's budget chief to "take all steps necessary" to continue funding the House and Senate through Oct. 1 or the resolution of the court case, should that come sooner.
In his 12-page order, Guthmann wrote that the state could face serious consequences if the Legislature were forced to shut down.
"Absent (temporary) relief, the public would be irreparably harmed through the deprivation of a basic constitutional right — a fully functioning Legislative Branch," he wrote.
The short-term funding for the Legislature — nearly $5.3 million per month, between the House and Senate — will continue at the level approved in the current budget, not the new one that prompted the veto.
The Republican-majority Legislature and the DFL governor have been at odds since late May, when a breakdown in budget negotiations led to both sides trading accusations about the other's motivations. Dayton signed several bills making up the state's next two-year budget, but he vetoed House and Senate funding to try to get legislative leaders to reconsider provisions in a tax-cut bill and other policies he believed would harm the state.
The governor said he took the unprecedented step because GOP leaders had forced his hand on the tax bill by tying it to funding for the state Department of Revenue.
Though Guthmann voiced concerns over whether the judicial branch should weigh in on the dispute, he concluded in his order that the issues raised in the lawsuit are "ripe and require a ruling from the court."
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, applauded the judge's action, saying he was encouraged that Guthmann found the issue worthy of the court's consideration.
"We remain confident that the governor's actions will be found unconstitutional and hope for a swift resolution to the legal process," Daudt said.
Guthmann did not indicate when he is likely to offer a decision on the broader issues of the case. It's likely the dispute won't be resolved soon; both sides are likely to appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court if they lose in the lower court's ruling.