Judge declines Dayton's request for budget mediator

Ramsey County judge Kathleen Gearin has denied Gov. Mark Dayton's request for a mediator in the state government budget impasse.

Gearin is hearing legal arguments Thursday over a possible state government shutdown. If Dayton and the Republican-controlled Legislature can't reach a deal to balance Minnesota's budget by July 1, state government will shutdown.

In early June, Dayton said a mediator would help bridge the divide between himself and the GOP-led Legislature.

"To get somebody who has the expertise and can set parameters and help define a process that will define a process that will lead to a successful resolution is in the best interest of all Minnesotans," he said at the time.

The motion was opposed by attorneys for both the House and Senate.

"It just doesn't apply here," House Attorney Eric Magnuson said. "The courts don't tread on the functions of the other branches of government."

Gearin said the role of crafting a budget should be left to the governor and the Legislature. "Those bodies have the institutional responsibility to resolve the budget crisis," Gearin said. "It's not the court's role."

Gearin also refused to allow four Republican Senators to intervene in the suit. Sens. Warren Limmer, Sean Nienow, Roger Chamberlain and Scott Newman wanted to argue that the courts are prevented by the state Constitution from ordering state spending for essential services, but Gearin said the four are already represented by attorneys for the full Senate.

MORE TO COME

Arguments were yet to come on the major issue of the hearing: Who has authority and how much authority to continue funding for state services if the Legislature and governor are unable to set a budget by the end of the state's two-year budget period.

The magnitude of the hearing was evidenced by the high-powered attorneys in the room. Some were asked to sit in the jury box to make room for the public. Gearin also remarked at how quickly the written motions were by filed by affected parities.

"This hearing is extremely important to everyone involved," Gearin said. She also said the situation this year is different from the preparations for government shutdowns in 2005 and 2001.

"This far more sweeping an issue," Gearin said. She said the governor and attorney general agreed on the best path to decide which services should continue in the past.

This year, Attorney General Lori Swanson and Gov. Dayton disagree over the process. Swanson is asking the judge to continue state spending for many programs. Dayton said he has the authority to continue spending if a shutdown occurs.

Gearin also has to rule on whether the courts have the authority to authorize spending if a shutdown happens. The Minnesota Senate argues the state Constitution requires the Legislature to authorize spending.

Gearin said it's unlikely that she will rule on that matter Thursday.

Before the break, several groups representing construction companies, disabled people, the Minnesota Zoo and workforce training asked to intervene in the suit. They told the judge why they believed that they should continue funding.

Gearin, who repeatedly discussed the severity of the situation, warned she wasn't going to open the state's treasury for every group.

"At some point people have to realize that it's not the courts role to make everything better," Gearin said.

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