Dayton, legislative leaders dig in ahead of mediation

Lawyers representing Gov. Mark Dayton and the Republican-controlled Legislature in their ongoing legal fight have completed some homework assigned last week by the Minnesota Supreme Court.

The documents filed Friday suggest deepening disagreements.

When Chief Justice Lorie Gildea ordered both sides to hire a mediator to try to work out their differences, she also ordered them to file written explanations on why the court should order funding for the House and Senate. Additionally, she demanded details on how much money the two bodies have in reserve and when those funds are expected to run out.

Dayton’s lawyer, Sam Hanson, argued in a memorandum that the absence of an appropriation means the judiciary can, as it has in past budget disputes, order critical core funding.

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“The enforcement of the constitutional rights of citizens falls necessarily to the Judiciary, as the safety net when the appropriations process has failed,” Hanson wrote.

But before receiving any court-ordered funding, Hanson wants the House and Senate to use up all carry-over funds, which he said will grow to a combined $16 million by month’s end.

The lawyer representing the House and Senate, Doug Kelley, sees its much differently.

In his Friday filing, Kelley argued that the Minnesota Constitution prohibits judicial funding of the Legislature, because the power of the purse belongs exclusively to the legislative branch. He said the prohibition of court-ordered funding means the governor’s line-item vetoes “effectively prevent the Legislature from functioning” and show that the action was unconstitutional.

Kelley also contended that court-ordered funding should not even be an issue, because the district court restored the appropriation.

“The issue of emergency court-ordered funding for core functioning will not ripen for adjudication unless this Court vacates the district court’s judgment and remands this case for a decision on the remaining two counts of the Complaint requesting injunctive and mandamus relief,” Kelley wrote.

Kelley also warned against a scenario where the vetoes were upheld and the House and Senate were forced to spend off its “limited” reserves. The court is expected to get a detailed accounting of those funds, along with anticipated expenditures, on Monday. Kelley said that result would alter the balance of power at the Capitol and quickly cause acute harm.

“The Senate will survive for no more than 60 days. The House will survive for no more than 120 days.” Kelley wrote. “When funds are exhausted, the Senate and House will have to furlough hundreds of employees.”

Dayton vetoed House and Senate funding last spring to get GOP leaders to renegotiate parts of the budget he signed. It instead triggered a lawsuit. Dayton appealed to the high court after a district judge ruled his action was unconstitutional. The state Supreme Court has not yet upheld or overturned that decision.