Minnesota Judge Orders Temporary Funding for Legislature

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) – A Minnesota judge gave the okay to temporarily fund the Legislature while state lawmakers continue their legal fight against Gov. Mark Dayton’s line-item veto of operating budgets.

The 90th Minnesota State Senate and 90th Minnesota State House of Representatives sued Dayton and Myron Frans, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Management and Budget, on June 13.

The lawmakers claim Dayton’s last-minute vetoes of operating budgets on May 30 will prevent the Legislature’s core functions from being fulfilled. They say the vetoes violate a separation of powers clause in the state constitution.

Dayton, a Democrat, signed nine appropriation bills and a tax bill into law, but he vetoed two items of appropriation in the Omnibus State Government Appropriations bill funding the Republican-controlled Senate and House, saying state lawmakers’ “job has not been satisfactorily completed.”

On Monday, Ramsey County District Court Chief Judge John H. Guthmann ordered Dayton’s commissioner of management and budget to continue to fund the Minnesota Senate and House of Representatives, the same day Guthmann heard arguments from both sides over constitutional powers.

The injunction order will fund the Legislature through Oct. 1.

“While it may be argued that a literal reading of Article XI of the Minnesota Constitution prohibits the relief requested by the parties, it is the duty of the courts to interpret constitutional provisions that appear to be irreconcilable and attempt to reconcile and harmonize them,” Guthmann wrote in the order. “The continuing operation of the Minnesota Legislature is a constitutional right of Minnesota citizens. Therefore, ‘when the traditional processes of government have failed, ‘the rigidity of Article XI’ must temporarily yield in favor of the broader constitutional rights of Minnesota’s citizenry.”

According to the order, the Senate’s monthly operating expenses are about $2.5 million, and the House of Representative’s operating expenses are roughly $2.7 million.

The Senate also subleases the Minnesota Senate Building from the commissioner of administration for $683,000 a month.

If the lease payments are not made, the state’s department of management and budget can remove persons and property from the Senate building, according to the order, and failure to make these payments can damage Minnesota’s credit rating.

Guthmann also stated in his order that a failure to fund the core functions of the legislative branch nullifies a branch of government, violates the Minnesota Constitution and causes irreparable harm to citizens.

Temporary funding of core government operations during an impasse between the legislative and executive branches of state government have been granted three time over the past 17 years, Guthmann noted in his order.

“In each case, the constitutional right of our citizenry to a functional government was preserved while the Legislative and Executive Branches successfully worked out their differences,” he wrote.

The judge said the injunctive relief sought by the parties represents “sound public policy.”

“This injunction shall remain in effect until the court issues its final decision and all appellate review has been completed or until October 1, 2017, whichever first occurs,” Guthmann ordered.

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