(CN) – A government watchdog organization claims in court that Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton’s line-item veto stopping all salary payments to state legislators is unconstitutional and goes against an independent council’s decision to raise their pay.
Minnesota legislators currently earn a yearly salary of $31,000, a figure unchanged for two decades.
In March, an independent council, created by a voter-approved constitutional amendment, decided to raise state lawmakers’ salaries by 45 percent to $45,000 per year.
However, the legislators’ raise is imperiled by a budget battle waged between the Republican-led Legislature and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.
While Dayton signed the state’s $46 billion budget last week, he vetoed the Legislature’s $130 million two-year budget in an effort to wring additional concessions from Republicans.
His letter to the leaders of the state House and Senate explained his decision, saying, “Your job has not been satisfactorily completed.”
The Republican Legislature pulled a similar move on Dayton earlier, inserting a clause in the budget bill that meant the state Department of Revenue would not be funded unless the governor signed a $650 million tax cut.
The Association for Government Accountability, or AGA, challenged this political gamesmanship in a complaint filed Monday in Ramsey County District Court.
The lawsuit names the state Commissioner of Management and Budget Myron Frans as a defendant, but not Dayton personally.
“Governor Dayton, with his recent line-item veto of funding for the legislative branch of government, brings the issue of funding prerogatives to the forefront and to the brink of a state constitutional crisis,” the government watchdog says, adding that the governor’s veto brought “state legislators’ salaries to zero.”
Based on the state constitution’s separation of powers, AGA asserts Gov. Dayton has no authority to stop paying the salaries of citizens’ elected representatives.
“Because their recent special session has ended, the state legislators have no way to override the veto. With that act, the legislative branch has ground to a halt. Any work between now and the next session is directly impeded, and the people are effectively without local representation,” the lawsuit continues.
AGA seeks a writ of mandamus requiring the government to pay state legislators a salary of $45,000 beginning July 1. The group is represented by Erick G. Kaardal with Mohrman, Kaardal & Erickson in Minneapolis.
The state did not immediately respond Tuesday to a request for comment.