Minnesota cage match, 2017 edition (5)

I have been following the ongoing cage match between Minnesota Democratic Governor Mark Dayton and Minnesota’s majority-Republican House and Senate in this series. It’s an interesting story that deserves national attention as a sign of the political times. Forgive me for repeating the necessary background.

At the end of this year’s slightly extended legislative session Dayton signed all tax and budget bills. He could have vetoed any of them. Even though he professed extreme unhappiness with certain items, he signed the bills The package of budget, tax and state government bills that finally passed reflected compromises on the part of all participants including Dayton and his commissioners.

As a result of his unhappiness with certain items, however, Governor Dayton exercised his authority to veto budgetary line items to wipe out the funding of the legislative branch. Dayton explained himself in the letter posted here.

Dayton demanded that Republicans revisit selected issues on his terms after they had already given ground elsewhere to arrive at the bills that were sent to him for his signature and adjourned. Unlike some other Republicans I can think of on the national scene, they weren’t inclined to make fools of themselves.

In the letter Dayton described one provision of the special session state government finance bill as “treachery.” Dayton to the contrary notwithstanding, however, the provision was included in every draft of the bill shared with the governor’s administration. The bill was made publicly available online at 6:00 a.m. on May 24 and was sent directly to the governor’s senior staff prior to being made public.

The legislature allowed for public review of the bill for more than 36 hours prior to passage on May 25 at 8:00 p.m. In addition to the ample time the governor had to review the bill, Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans and the governor’s senior staff discussed the bill language with legislative staff on numerous occasions and never raised this provision as a point of concern.

Dayton’s decision to strike legislative funding is another matter. The governor can’t do that, can he?

In search of the answer, the legislature took Governor Dayton to court. In asking a judge to weigh in on the issue of whether one branch can wipe out another, the thought is likely to occur that the judiciary might be next. It’s an obvious point and one that did not escape Ramsey County Judge John Guthmann, to whom the case had been assigned.

The legislature’s current funding expired on July 1. In an interim ruling Judge Guthmann required continued funding for the legislature through October 1. He drew on the Minnesota Constitution to support his ruling. “If the legislative branch is not funded, it cannot carry out its core functions, which include those functions necessary to draft, debate, publish, vote on and enact legislation,” Judge Guthmann wrote. The interim ruling foretold Judge Guthmann;s final decision in the case, ruling against Dayton on constitutional grounds. Judge Guthmann’s order and supporting memorandum are posted here.

Governor Dayton appealed Judge Guthmann’s ruling to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which accepted review on an expedited basis and heard oral argument of the governor’s appeal last week. The Minnesota Supreme Court has posted video of the oral argument here. (Justice Stras recused himself from the case.) It seemed that the Supreme Court was poised to reverse Judge Guthmann’s ruling and remand the case to Judge Guthmann for an order funding the legislature’s core functions beyond October 1 for as long as necessary.

The Minnesota Supreme Court has now issued a unanimous 6-page order under the signature of Chief Justice Lorie Gildea. The order is posted online here.

The Court holds that Dayton constitutionally exercised his line-item veto power, but rules further that this conclusion “does not end the matter.” The circumstances, the Court observes, “raise doubts about the continued functioning of the legislative branch” as contemplated in the state constitution. “Constitutional powers may not be used to accomplish an unconstitutional result,” the order provides. The order implies a standoff for the time being.

The question of continued funding troubles the Court. It notes the constitutional requirement for the legislature to authorize appropriations. It hesitates to order funding unless “absolutely necessary.” It calls for another round in the cage match to obtain additional “input from the parties in order to assist the court in deciding this case.”

The Court wants Dayton and the legislature to get it out of this fine mess. It orders the parties “participate in good-faith efforts to resolve this dispute through mediation.” The parties are to file memoranda on the Court’s authority to order funding for the legislature next week.

This case does not yet represent a simple victory for Governor Dayton. There is more to come. The Court holds onto the case for further resolution of the issues if the parties won’t spare it the trouble by reaching agreement themselves.

This story is, as they say, developing…

JOHN adds: Peter Nelson gives his take on the Court’s order and notes the Star Tribune’s misleading, “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline on the case.

UPDATE: I should add our friend Howard Root’s offer on his and my behalf as well as his optimistic reading of the portents.

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