I wrote about the ongoing cage match between Minnesota Democratic Governor Mark Dayton and Minnesota’s majority-Republican House and Senate here. Governor Dayton really doesn’t play well with others of the opposing party. We have all learned to tread lightly in his vicinity. His feathers are easily ruffled.
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. The legislature’s current funding expires on July 1. After that it can run for a while on fumes (i.e., reserves on hand). 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 has been assigned. Next stop, Mark Dayton rules the world!
Now Judge Guthmann has ruled that the Minnesota Constitution is not friendly to one-man government. “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 in an opinion issued shortly after attorneys left the courtroom yesterday. Judge Guthmann has ordered continued funding on an interim basis through October 1. The Pioneer Press’s Rachel Stassen-Berger reports on the ruling in her story along with which she has embedded a copy of the decision. I think it bodes poorly for the governor’s position in the case.
Governor Dayton has a high tolerance for embarrassment and Judge Guthmann has yet to render a final ruling in the case. Dayton can carry it on for a while. At some point before too long, however, I should think that embarrassment might deter Dayton from protracting an ordeal that highlights the weakest and most offensive features of his public character.