Governor Dayton's Brinkmanship

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


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.
Republican legislators ... 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.
Comment: The main players above: Kurt Daudt, Mark Dayton, Paul Gazelka

Mark Dayton vetoed the Legislature’s funding. Was it constitutional?:
Doug Wardlow predicted the court case would be open-and-shut.

“To veto the funding for the Legislature entirely like that, basically is voiding another co-equal branch of government and violating the separation of powers,” Wardlow said. “I don’t think (Dayton) has a leg to stand on, because he has completely undermined the ability of the Legislature to function.”

Dayton said he’s in the right — if on uncertain legal ground.

“The courts will ultimately have to resolve (the dispute),” said Dayton, who came up with the idea for vetoing the Legislature’s funding himself. “There isn’t case law directly applicable to this.”

His preferred outcome doesn’t involve the courts at all, but rather Republicans re-opening negotiations and agreeing to concessions. Then Dayton could call a special legislative session to re-pass the Legislature’s funding along with any concessions Republicans agreed to.
Constitutional fight escalates between Gov. Mark Dayton, Legislature
The conflict is of a piece with the grim direction of national and state politics at a time when traditions of compromise and comity have given way to demonstrations of raw power.XXX That’s the diagnosis of constitutional scholars who say the new dynamic between the political parties — witnessed in Washington for years and more recently in St. Paul — dictates that every dispute has the potential to become a constitutional death struggle.

“They have taken their literal power to its ultimate lengths. And that’s constitutional crisis,” said Mary Jane Morrison, a Mitchell Hamline Law School professor who wrote a book on the Minnesota constitution.

Minnesota politicos were still reeling Wednesday from Dayton’s maneuver, which he said was his own idea.

He signed 10 budget bills Tuesday totaling $46 billion that will fund the executive branch for the next two years. He also signed a $650 million tax cut and a borrowing package of nearly $1 billion for public works.

But then he used his line-item veto authority to strike out $130 million in operating funds for the Legislature, which could leave 201 state lawmakers and several hundred legislative employees without pay as soon as reserves run dry in a few months.

“This is unconstitutional,” House GOP spokeswoman Susan Closmore wrote in a Wednesday memo. “The branches of government are coequal. If one branch takes action that infringes too greatly — such as eliminating all funding for four years — on another branch of government, it violates the constitutional separation of powers.”

Constitutional scholars agreed that the spirit of the separation of powers does not allow one branch of government to effectively kill another by defunding it.

“This is an abuse of a power that contravenes the very system of a separation of powers,” said H. Jefferson Powell, a Duke University constitutional scholar. A veteran of the Clinton and Obama Justice Departments, Powell, while not specifically familiar with the circumstances in Minnesota, emphasized his expertise is in federal separation of powers cases.

“Maybe you have the raw power to do this, but plainly this is a misuse of power,” he said.
Update: Minn. Legislature moves to sue Gov. Dayton over funding cut
Minnesota legislators agreed Friday to hire a law firm to sue Gov. Mark Dayton after he zeroed out the operating budget of the House and Senate. Calling Dayton’s move an unconstitutional encroachment on the legislative branch of government, a Republican led panel of House members and senators agreed on a party-line vote to enter into negotiations with the high profile law firm of Kelley, Wolter & Scott, which has offered to cut their $650 per hour fee in half to do the work. Barring a last-minute resolution, a lawsuit seems likely. “We feel like we had no choice,” said Senate Majority Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, who said the Senate would run out of funds around August 1. The Legislature employs more than 500 people, both partisan and nonpartisan.


The Association of Government Accountability, represented by conservative legal activist Erick Kaardal, sues Dayton administration over Legislature defunding
A group of conservative activists is suing the administration of Gov. Mark Dayton over his decision to defund the Legislature as of July 1.

The Association of Government Accountability, represented by conservative legal activist Erick Kaardal, is arguing in Ramsey County District Court that a 2016 constitutional amendment that sets legislative pay requires that state government pay lawmakers.

Dayton signed 10 bills last week that set the state’s next two-year, $46 billion budget, but he used his line item veto authority to strike out spending for the operating budgets of both the House and Senate. He wants the Republican-controlled Legislature to renegotiate deals over immigrant driver’s licenses; education policy; and, tax cuts.

Kaardal argues that the constitutional amendment on legislative salaries requires the Dayton administration to pay lawmakers. Voters authorized an outside group called the Legislative Salary Council to set lawmaker pay in the last election by approving a constitutional amendment that ended the practice of lawmakers voting on their own salaries. Details of suit

“It’s an extraordinary breach of trust of the public. It’s an extraordinary breach of the constitution,” Kaardal said at a Monday news conference on the steps of the Capitol.

Both the House and Senate will run out of money in a few months and not have enough money to pay lawmakers and staff; the Legislature is in the process of obtaining outside counsel to sue Dayton over what it calls an unconstitutional abuse of power.

1 comment:

  1. 70 years old and acting like he's in junior high. Let's remember next November.


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