Legislative leaders have asked a Ramsey County judge to order the state to restore their budget, which remains tangled up in a monthslong legal battle with Gov. Mark Dayton.
Arguments filed Wednesday by the Legislature’s attorney say Judge John Guthmann should enforce the ruling he made in July: that Dayton’s veto of legislative funding was unconstitutional, and that he could not block the budgets for the state House and Senate. Guthmann’s orders have been on hold because the governor appealed the decision to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which heard the case nearly two months ago but has not issued a final word in the matter.
Dayton, meanwhile, disputes the Legislature’s opinion that Guthmann’s ruling should stand in the absence of a higher court decision.
A short-term funding agreement between the DFL governor and Republican legislative leaders expired Oct. 1, and the Legislature is now running on reserve funds. Though earlier filings suggest that those reserves could carry the House and Senate through sometime next year, GOP legislative leaders say they’ve been forced to cut costs to get by — and that it’s beginning to disrupt the legislative branch of government.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said in a statement that the state’s 201 lawmakers provide a critical link between communities across the state and their government. He and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said the governor’s veto is limiting that connection.
“It does not serve those communities well to have a Legislature running on fumes, limiting constituent services and resorting to extreme measures to keep the lights on,” Daudt said.
Cost-saving measures Daudt has imposed on the House include cutting per-diem reimbursements and mileage and business travel expenses for lawmakers, restricting out-of-state travel, and prohibiting spending by committees. The Senate has made similar cuts, and has also blocked spending on travel by lawmakers preparing a bonding bill for the 2018 legislative session.
A memo from Betty Myers, the controller of the Senate, says the budget restrictions are limiting the Senate’s ability to consider 225 projects in contention for that bill. “It is not business as usual for the Legislature,” she wrote.
The battle between Dayton and GOP legislative leaders dates to May, when a dispute over a tax-cut package and other items in the state’s next two-year budget prompted the governor to veto funding for the House and Senate. He hoped to bring legislative leaders back to the negotiating table, but the Legislature instead sued, arguing that the governor had violated the separation of powers guaranteed in the state Constitution.
The Minnesota Supreme Court said this summer that Dayton’s veto was constitutional, but it did not formally reject the lower court’s ruling. Instead, the court ordered the two sides into mediation. Those talks stalled out after less than two days.