State Senate prepares for layoffs

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka outlined the plan for laying off staff and suspending operations due to the unresolved budget dispute. Tim Pugmire MPR|News

With a months-long budget dispute still unresolved, the Minnesota Senate is preparing to lay off its staff and shut down operations on Jan. 12, 2018.

Senate Republicans have said their reserve funds will run out Dec. 1, as the result of Gov. Mark Dayton’s line-item veto last spring of operational money for the House and Senate. The matter remains tied up in the courts.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said Wednesday that a transfer of money from a separate legislative branch account would keep them in business until mid-January. Gazelka said the proposed transfer of just over $3 million needs approval from the Legislative Coordinating Commission.

“We don’t take the suspension of operations of the Minnesota Senate lightly - this is not a game - but we really have no other choice today,” said Gazelka.

Under the Senate timetable, 205 employees will receive furlough notices next month. They’ll get their last checks on Jan. 12. Senators will receive a salary for January but not beyond. None of the expenses, including housing and per diem, will be paid beyond Jan. 12.

The Minnesota House has enough money available to keep operating until early February.

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House and Senate leaders are awaiting clarity from the Minnesota Supreme Court on the constitutionality of Dayton’s vetoes. They’ve also asked a Ramsey County judge, who ruled the vetoes were unconstitutional, to order the administration to keep them funded.

Dayton and his lawyers have criticized Republican legislative leaders for not seeking an out-of-court resolution. An earlier court-ordered mediation attempt failed.

Dayton also contends that the House and Senate have plenty of money available to make to into the 2018 legislative session, which begins Feb. 20.

The governor’s assistant chief of staff, Matt Swenson, said that Gazelka and other Republicans are choosing to lay off employees while sitting on $45 million they could be tapping.

House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said Republicans should be negotiating, not sending layoff notices.

“I think that Senator Gazelka should work with Democrats like Governor Dayton and me and Senator Bakk to solve a problem rather than using people as pawns in a political dispute.”

Gazelka said he's not interested in negotiating.

"If the governor can do this, line-item the House and Senate, then all future governors can do this," Gazelka said. "I'm interested in protecting the power of the legislative body."