Legislature sues Dayton over budget cut

Updated 3:05 p.m. | Posted 10:57 a.m.

Republican legislative leaders filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Gov. Mark Dayton Tuesday over his vetoes of funding for the House and Senate for the next two years.

The move came after a morning meeting where both sides said no progress had been made.

Dayton used his line-item veto authority late last month to zero out funding for the House and Senate for the next two years in an effort to bring them back to the negotiating table on five provisions in bills he signed after lawmakers adjourned their special session.

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The complaint filed in Ramsey County District Court seeks a judge’s declaration that Dayton’s action violated the separation of powers clause of the Minnesota Constitution. It claims the vetoes “impermissibly control, coerce and restrain” the Legislature in the exercise of its duties. The complaint asks the court to restore the two-year funding of $129 million that Dayton zeroed out.

Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt said the lawsuit is needed to protect the integrity of the House and Senate.

“We’re hopeful that the courts will take a swift and firm action to affirm the co-equal branch of government that the legislature is.”


Daudt said he felt an obligation to legislative employees to take the matter to court. In addition to 201 elected legislators, the House and Senate have a combined workforce of 437 people.

The issues Dayton wants to renegotiate include tobacco tax and estate tax reductions, teacher licensing changes and a ban in law on drivers licenses for unauthorized immigrants.

"They're sticking with their position, and I'm sticking with mine," Dayton said, adding that he takes seriously the impact of his action will have on legislative employees, when funding runs out. He said House and Senate leaders have the ability to resolve the matter before that happens.

Dayton objected to a measure linking funding for the Minnesota Revenue Department to his signing of the Legislature's tax bill, which he said he did reluctantly.

“The putting of policy measures into these budget bills is putting a gun to the head of the executive branch," Dayton said. "If you don’t agree to our budget, then we’re going to force a shutdown, which is what happened in 2011.”

Dayton said his concern about the impact of a tax bill veto on Department of Revenue employees also applies to legislative staff. But he sees it as a decision now for Republican leaders.

“The legislative leaders have the ability to come to the special session and resolve matters, so those layoffs won’t occur.”

One issue that legislators are concerned about is the inability of the Senate to make lease payments on its Capitol complex building with funding for the next biennium.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said he would put a priority on trying to protect Senate employees from layoffs before the lease payments, but he acknowledged that missing them could have an impact on the state's bond rating.

“It’s more important to me that our staff, both Democratic, nonpartisan and Republican, are taken care of. We’ll just figure out where can we go and how much money do we have and when will that end. But that’s why we’re starting the court case today, because we’re going to ask for a temporary restraining order that we can forward, that we can function as we always have.”