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Gov. Dayton and the Legislature: what happened, why and what comes next?

Morning Hot Dish

By J. Patrick Coolican

Gov. Mark Dayton signed all the major spending bills state spending bills on Tuesday, which means Minnesota's two year state general fund budget of $46 billion is in place. Except he refused to fund the Legislature.

It's a decision that sets up a summer's worth of political and legal disputes between the DFL governor and Republicans who control the Legislature. 

Dayton held a 5:30 p.m. news conference where he read a remarkable three page letter, quite clearly labored over by the governor himself. He was angry about a GOP provision in the state government budget bill that funds some of his key departments -- including his own office -- but that blocked funding for his Dept. of Revenue unless he signed the big $650 million tax cut bill so cherished by Republicans.

It was a “reprehensible sneak attack” and "last minute legislative treachery," Dayton wrote in his letter. His staff missed it, apparently, because they couldn't get bill drafts from Republicans. The House GOP says the state government finance bill was posted at 6 a.m. last Wednesday, 36 hours before it was taken up in either chamber. The governor's staff never raised concerns about this bill, say House GOP.

To be sure, during a news conference yesterday morning before GOP leaders flew off to events in Rochester, Mankato, Moorhead and Duluth, House Speaker Kurt Daudt had a boastful air when he was asked about the provision. He humble bragged that it wasn't his idea.

But even if Dayton and his staff were truly blindsided by this maneuver, it would be naive not to note something else that was happening last week and over the weekend: Dayton was getting a lot of pressure from progressive groups. Many were unhappy with the immigrant driver's license provision in the public safety bill. The teachers union hated the changes to licensure. And all the progressive groups didn't like the budget bills combined with a big tax cut that will eat into revenue in future years.

So, Dayton appears and says he will sign the budget bills, allow the tax bill to become law without signing it. And, line item veto the appropriation for the Legislature. So, he was effectively defunding the Legislature for two years unless they renegotiated some of the provisions in the tax bill (tobacco, wealthy estate tax, commercial/industrial inflator repeal) that they had obtained through their "legislative treachery." Oh, while he was at it, he also wanted changes to the driver's license and teacher licensure provisions. It was quite a moment.

Adding to the chaos, Dayton said by not signing the tax bill, it would become law. But lawyers and constitution nerds started arguing that's not what the state Constitution says. By not signing it, it would be what's called a pocket veto.Just before 11 p.m., another news release, this time saying Dayton signed the tax bill. 

That's unlikely to be enough to head off a lawsuit by Republican legislators, who are already calling the whole maneuver an unconstitutional breach of separation of powers. A House Republican I talked to is confident a judge will quickly order money for ongoing operations because the Legislature is an essential function of government. If that's the case, then that money, plus reserves, will allow the House to ride it out for a long time. They could also dump DFL staff as nonessential.

Another point of confusion, contention and potential litigation: The administration is claiming that the Legislature, perhaps unwittingly, approved controversial benefits for state workers like paid family leave. Republicans say heck no. 

Morning Hot Dish: Labor's revenge

Morning Hot Dish

By J. Patrick Coolican

Labor's revenge

The Minnesota labor movement had a crisis moment Wednesday, fuming about what was coming out of the various compromise deals between Gov. Mark Dayton and the Legislature. The teachers lost on "LIFO light" and the licensure provisions they opposed; a negotiated increase for home health care workers was cut in half, hitting SEIU's new bargaining unit; and, AFSCME was alarmed by a provision in the yet-to-be-released state government finance bill that would have upended the presumption of contract ratifications. The last one is obscure but important. Currently public employee unions negotiate with the administration, and the contract is ratified by a legislative subcommittee. If the subcommittee doesn't have a quorum or if it's a tie vote, the contract goes into effect until the legislative session when it gets an up or down vote. Rep. Sarah Anderson wants to require an affirmative vote of the subcommittee to ratify, arguing that we never allow something to become law without an affirmative vote.

Again, obscure, but a huge deal for labor. Eliot Seide, executive director of AFSCME Council 5 and considered one of the top labor leaders in the country, called it a "Trojan horse to end collective bargaining." The point of the legislation is to have the union negotiate with the Legislature instead of the executive branch, which he called "unwieldy and impossible to get to an agreement." Republicans in the Legislature, he argues, could just refuse to negotiate, and workers would never get a raise. "The authors don't believe workers should have a right to collectively bargain," he told me.

Republicans say this is all overblown, that they control the subcommittee on employee relations right now because they control the Legislature, so they already effectively have the power to stop contracts.

But labor sees this as the beginning of efforts to turn Minnesota into Wisconsin, which again points to the importance of the 2018 election, when Republicans can take control of all of state government for the first time in the modern era. There are two pillars of the DFL's money machine: A handful of wealthy individuals, and labor. Every election cycle you'll see $100K checks from AFSCME to the House and Senate DFL caucuses. Look at what's happened in Wisconsin to labor and to the Democratic Party there.

Apparently Gov. Mark Dayton, who has a decades long relationship with labor, heard them Wednesday, because two sources tell me the contract ratification language will be removed from the state government finance bill. (Picture Anderson's reaction.)

This all points to another fact: When the leaders appeared Monday night and said they had a deal, they didn't really have a deal. They had "the framework of a deal."

"Everyone was working in good faith to get to an agreement. The big stuff was signed off on. Remaining issues were stickier than anyone thought they would be," said a DFL operative close to the process. A GOP lawmaker agreed with this assessment. These bills have hundreds of pages and a lot of details to work out. But leaders wanted to keep everyone in town and keep working, because once everyone goes home and the special interest groups start whipping up conflict, compromise gets harder. That's why they didn't show us seven bills Tuesday night. They weren't close to ready.

It also explains the furious spinning I was getting Wednesday, including two unsolicited calls from Republicans telling me the overnight debacle (our story on overnight/Wednesday events/non-events) was all the fault of House DFL Minority Leader Melissa Hortman. She was breaking the agreement. She had no control over her caucus, they fumed. It was a little rich -- the minority leader really has this much power? Hmmm. Where are the bills? Why is the Senate also stuck? But I suspect they were just trying to stay on offense as the negotiations continued, especially when they saw labor and other progressive groups at the Capitol.

But there's a light at end of the tunnel. Health and human services and state government finance are finally ready, which means we'll have marathon sessions today and maybe into tonight, but they'll finish and everybody gets to go home for Memorial Day weekend.

Happy 150th to the Star Tribune! We'll be celebrating with a party tonight but (sad trombones) I'll be at the Legislature.

John Reynolds, House Commerce Committee administrator, and aggressive tweeter, apparently upset about some liquor bill controversy. Note the #mnsen hashtag.

This"Here's 30 pieces of silver to pay the Devil on your way to hell." youtu.be/3_fhfRODOmc #mnsen

More aggressive tweeting, from Justin Perpich: "Unpopular opinion here but it's safe to say we wouldn't be in this mess if House/Senate DFL ran 21st century campaigns."

Whoa.

Love this profile of Maggie Haberman, the most important White House reporter of the Trump era. What a badass:

Last June, Haberman got the tip that Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski had been fired while she was sitting in the audience at her son's kindergarten graduation. Ashley Parker, now a Washington Post White House correspondent but then one of Haberman's colleagues at the Times, says Haberman confirmed the tip and wrote the story on her phone during the graduation. Her son didn't have school after the ceremony, so Haberman brought him with her to a politics meeting at the Times. "She came into the Page One conference room, and there was this huge round of applause," Parker says. "Part of it was for her son graduating kindergarten, and part of it was for Maggie for breaking this awesome scoop."

How every political reporter should want to be described:

Haberman's bullshit detector is appreciated by partisans on both sides: Even if they can't spin her, they know the other side won't be able to spin her either. "You can change her mind," Madden says. "You can offer perspective, you can offer insight, you can offer details, but they've got to be locked down." Haberman has reached the point in her career where sources are now chasing her, instead of the other way around—lying to her risks banishment and access to her news-promulgating prowess. "If you're going to come at her," says a Democratic operative, "you've got to come correct."

Sen. Ted Cruz not thrilled by how Sen. Al Franken describes him in his new book.

Franken has pre-taped a bunch of material for the Grateful Dead channel on Sirius XM Satellite Radio, to run Tuesday, including discussions of some shows he's been to while they play them. Should be eminently entertaining. "Once in awhile you get shown the light, in the strangest places if you look at it right...."

Are you confused by the Seth Rich conspiracy theory controversy? Dave Weigel is a good guide.

Democrats have a problem with anti-abortion candidates and their supporters: Buzzfeed.

It's a facile Washington truism, that it's the cover-up not the crime, but that's what conservative writer Byron York sees happening with the Trump-Russia story:

The problem, for the confederation of Democrats, pundits, Obama holdovers, and NeverTrumpers who hoped to see that result, has been that so far, after a lot of investigating, no evidence has emerged that collusion actually occurred. Although they allowed that previously unknown proof could always emerge, last week some of the lawmakers most deeply involved in the investigation, and most closely in touch with the intelligence community and law enforcement working on the probe, conceded that there appeared to be no there there. That was then. Now, rather than focusing on alleged collusion, the thrust of leaks in recent days has been directed almost exclusively toward building a case of obstruction of justice against the president, charging that he actively tried to derail the investigation into his campaign and his associates. More and more, day after day, Trump's adversaries believe that, when it comes to bringing down the president, it might not matter if collusion occurred or not. A cover-up would be enough to do the job.

Important for 2018: Trump's "strongly approve" number is shrinking: 538. This means there’s possibility of an enthusiasm gap.

Trump's tax plan has an obvious math error, but that's never stopped Washington from enacting a policy.

Maya Rao will finish up the week, and unless the Legislature is still around next week or there's big news, no newsletter. Have a nice holiday and see you in June.

Correspond: patrick.coolican@startribune.com and @jpcoolican.

Have a great day all!

-- J. Patrick Coolican