Court filings relight feud over vetoed legislative budgets

Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders exchanged new criticism Wednesday amid court filings in their months-old feud over vetoes that halted new funding for the House and Senate.

Dayton’s legal team lodged its objection to a recent legislative request to a judge to free up money while the Supreme Court decides the broader case. The DFL governor followed it up with a sharply worded statement accusing Republican lawmakers of running up the legal tab while refusing to seek an out-of-court resolution.

“If they are unwilling, they should at least stop wasting taxpayer dollars on expensive and unnecessary legal proceedings, and await a final judgment from the Minnesota Supreme Court,” Dayton said in a written statement.

Republican leaders demanded that Dayton back down.

“Another day, another court filing from Gov. Dayton attempting to silence the voice of the people by cutting off funding to the legislative branch,” said Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, in statement that included similar criticism from House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Zimmerman.

It all stems from Dayton’s decision in May to line-item veto the appropriations for the House and Senate while signing the rest of a new state budget. Lawmakers sued, arguing Dayton was attempting to eliminate a separate branch of government.

The sides agreed to a temporary funding plan that would help the Legislature pay its bills through Oct. 1 while the case moved through the courts. In July, a Ramsey County District Court judge ruled against Dayton and declared his vetoes “null and void.”

On appeal, the Minnesota Supreme Court left the sides without clarity by saying Dayton had authority to issue vetoes but left open the possibility they were still a constitutional violation. The high court ordered the parties into mediation, but that failed.

All along, Dayton has said he is open to restoring the Legislature’s full funding if lawmakers revisit some budget and policy issues he was uncomfortable with, most notably a series of tax cuts for businesses and on tobacco products.

Last month, with still no final word from the Supreme Court, the Legislature returned to the Ramsey County judge to seek an order that the Dayton administration release its appropriation. Their worry is the Senate will run its reserve accounts dry in December and the House in early February, resulting in layoffs and other disruptions. 

Dayton’s lawyers argued Wednesday that such a move would be misguided. Their filings assert that the Legislature hasn’t done enough to rein in spending while lawmakers aren’t in session, noting that more than $130,000 has gone to apartment rents, mileage reimbursements and conference fees since the beginning of October. Dayton’s team contends lawmakers will be able to access a separate pot of money -- which was spared a veto -- to extend operations well into the 2018 session.

“In other words, a solution to this dispute has always been available to the Legislature without any need for intervention by the judiciary,” lawyer Sam Hanson wrote.

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