Minnesota cage match, 2017 edition (8)

When we checked in most recently on the ongoing cage match between Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton and the Republican-majority legislative bodies, the Minnesota Supreme Court had ordered the parties to mediation. Governor Dayton angrily abandoned the proceeding in short order as the parties failed to arrive at any agreement regarding funding of the legislature or amendment of bills that Dayton had signed. The parties held competing press conferences that I posted in the part 7 of this series (linked above).

Governor Dayton has vetoed the legislature’s appropriation of operational funding in order to induce it to renegotiate the terms of the tax bill he himself had signed; he says he signed the tax bill in order to avoid a so-called (by him) poison pill that would have deprived funding to the Department of Revenue. I gave a fuller account of the background to the cage match in part 1 of this series.

In a rounded sort of way, the failure of mediation put the issue squarely to the Minnesota Supreme Court. Does the governor have the constitutional authority to zero out the legislature’s funding? Yesterday the court issued its 29-page opinion affirming the governor’s authority to do so as long as the legislature has sufficient funds to subsist. At the moment and for the next several months it has funds on which it can subsist. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Lorie Gildea notes that the legislature can get along until it reconvenes next February.

Justice Barry Anderson dissents; he thinks the time to face the issue is now. He captures my view of Dayton’s argument in the case: “The Governor argues that his line-item veto power is unqualified and unlimited and includes the authority to eliminate all appropriations for the Legislature, a position that King James I might have found familiar. The Governor’s only concession in our court is to explain that an unconstitutional abolition of the Legislature could be remedied by a judicial order that authorizes ‘core funding,’ an option that has been dubious at best and that is now foreclosed” (by the majority).

Justice Anderson is biting on the court’s dodge: “These discussions about what loose change can be found and when it can be spent to keep the Legislature operating are interesting but ultimately irrelevant.” The dissent is on the money in a case that is all about the money.

What happens when the legislature’s subsistence funds run out? As I read the court’s opinion, the majority continues to hope that the parties will resolve their dispute. I think the majority is guilty of wishful thinking on this score and that they’re going to have to get back to us later in 2018 after a perilous situation has become an emergency.

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