Minnesota Lawmakers Slam Governor Over Funding Veto

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) – State lawmakers claim in court that core functions of the Minnesota Legislature will go unfulfilled because of Gov. Mark Dayton’s last-minute 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, in Ramsey County District Court on Tuesday, claiming the governor’s line-item vetoes violate a separation of powers clause in the state constitution.

According to the lawsuit, the Legislature passed a comprehensive and balanced budget for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 on May 26, which included nine appropriation bills and a tax bill.

On May 30, Dayton, a Democrat, signed all of the appropriation bills and the tax bill into law, but he vetoed two items of appropriation in the Omnibus State Government Appropriations bill funding the Senate and House.

State lawmakers claim these two items total more than $129 million and funded both chambers of the Legislature through fiscal year 2019.

“Because the special and regular sessions have ended, plaintiffs cannot override the veto,” the complaint states. “Plaintiffs will be without funding starting on July 1, 2017 as a result of the governor’s line-item vetoes.”

Dayton informed the Legislature of his vetoes by sending a letter to Senate President Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, according to the lawsuit.

In another letter to House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R- Zimmerman, and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, Dayton justified his vetoes by stating, “Your job has not been satisfactorily completed, so I am calling on you to finish your work. However, I will allow a special session only if you agree to remove the following provisions.”

According to the complaint, those provisions included tobacco tax breaks, an estate tax exclusion increase, a C-I property freeze, a driver’s license provision and a teacher licensure provision.

But the state senators and representatives say they cannot meet and therefore cannot override Dayton’s line-item vetoes because the special session was adjourned “sine die,” or indefinitely, and the regular session is adjourned until February 2018.

According to the complaint, the Minnesota Senate consists of 67 elected senators, 205 permanent, full-time staff and 35 session-only full-time staff member. The House has 134 representatives, 232 full-time staff members and about 50 session-only employees.

The lawmakers argue a core function of the Legislature is communicating with their constituents, which occurs year-round. During the interim between regular sessions, legislators say they depend even more on staff to facilitate the communication with constituents.

Another core function of the Legislature is crafting legislation, which lawmakers say is complex, time-consuming and relies heavily on attorneys and analysts.

Moreover, the Minnesota Senate and House are constitutionally obligated to publish journals of their respective proceedings, the complaint states, which are prepared and reviewed by staff in both chambers. The journals can be as long as 10,000 pages.

The Senate’s monthly operating expenses are about $2.5 million and the House’s expenses are roughly $2.7 million, according to the lawsuit.

The Senate also pays $683,000 per month to lease the Minnesota Senate Building from the commissioner of administration, lawmakers say, fearing they could be removed from the building without funding.

The legislators say Dayton’s vetoes are unconstitutional, null and void.

“Due to Governor Dayton’s line-item vetoes, the Legislature will have insufficient funds to exercise its official and constitutional powers and duties beginning on July 1, 2017,” the lawsuit states.

Gov. Dayton’s office did not immediate respond to a request for comment Wednesday morning.

The Minnesota Senate and House are represented by Douglas Kelley with Kelly, Wolter & Scott in Minneapolis.

The legislators’ lawsuit comes one week after the Association for Government Accountability sued over Dayton’s vetoes, claiming the effect of stopping all salary payments to state legislators is unconstitutional and goes against an independent council’s decision to raise their pay.

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