Q: The Republican-controlled Legislature and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton finished the session in some kind of fight. What exactly happened?
A: Dayton and Republicans spent weeks negotiating behind closed doors to decide on a two-year $46 billion budget that included a $650 million tax cut. As an “insurance policy,” or in an act of constitutional overreach — depending on your point of view — the Legislature made funding for the Department of Revenue contingent on Dayton signing the tax cut. The governor responded by signing all the budget bills, including the tax cut, but he also used line-item veto authority to zero out the Legislature’s operating budget — meaning pay for lawmakers and staff and other legislative expenses. Without that money, the House and Senate will run out of money in a matter of months.
Q: Line-item what?
A: The Minnesota Constitution grants the governor the line-item veto, which allows Dayton to strike individual spending provisions in a larger budget bill. Because the Legislature is not in session and can’t call itself into session, it can’t override his veto.
Q: So, what now?
A: Legislative leaders say this is an unconstitutional encroachment on their branch of government, and they are moving toward hiring outside counsel, with a lawsuit against Dayton likely.
Q: Why did Dayton do this?
A: The DFLer says he was justified because of what he calls “treachery” by Republican leaders, in the form of their attempt to force his hand on the tax cut bill. He says his goal is to bring Republicans back to the negotiating table, hoping they will reconsider some bills he has already signed. That includes the tax bill, which he thinks has provisions that would benefit only the wealthy while threatening Minnesota’s fiscal stability. Dayton also wants lawmakers to repeal or revisit two provisions he approved because they were tucked inside big budget bills: a new law barring undocumented immigrants from receiving driver’s licenses, and changes to the state’s teacher licensure system.
Q: If the Legislature sues Dayton, how will the courts rule?
A: The courts may be reluctant to get involved in what is essentially a political dispute between the other two branches of government, according to constitutional scholars.
Q: So, what’s that mean?
A: Dayton and the Legislature may have to figure out how to coexist.