The Minnesota State Legislature finally adjourned in the wee hours of Friday, May 26th. They may or may not return to re-work some bills, but more about that in a bit.
Long-time Capitol hands say that "no two sessions are the same." This session was certainly the case, and may be the oddest I have ever witnessed. In the closing days of the regular legislative session, which was due to adjourn at midnight on Monday, May 22nd, a budget deal between Governor Dayton and legislative leaders did not seem close at hand. Most Capitol observers anticipated no budget and the need for a special session.
But just 30 minutes before midnight, on the May 22nd deadline, the Governor and legislative leaders emerged from his office announcing they had struck a deal. All the caucus leaders and the Governor signed a one page agreement on the budget, tax, and bonding bills. The Governor called a special session for 12:01AM Tuesday May 23rd so legislators could iron out some of the remaining bills like HHS. They just kept on going and most people at the Capitol thought they would be done by late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning. But they were not…
It took three and a half more days for the nine budget bills, as well as the tax and bonding bills, to be re-written, introduced and voted on. Only the tax bill got a public hearing. Some spending bills were publicly posted and then voted on within hours. There were substantial changes to many bills, with previously included pieces of legislation like the Complex PCA dropped at the last minute. Legislators, staff, and lobbyists staggered out of the Capitol just before sunrise on Friday to get home in time to sleep through most of the Memorial Day weekend (I know I did).
By the Tuesday after Memorial Day, Gov. Dayton had signed all nine budget bills. He gave legislative leadership a letter saying that he'd done so to "forestall a bitter June showdown" over a government shutdown. The Governor complained about several provisions in the bills that he was strongly opposed to, and hadn't agreed to, in their last minute budget agreement.
Moreover, the majority leadership slipped a "poison pill" into the state government finance bill that would have zeroed-out funding for the Revenue Department if the tax bill was vetoed. Dayton reluctantly signed the tax bill and was so angry about the legislative trickery that he line-item vetoed funding for the House and Senate for FY2018 and FY 2019, meaning no salaries for legislators or assistants. Wow. I have not seen these two end of session maneuvers before.
The Governor hoped that by de-funding the Legislature in would force the re-negotiation of the items that he was so opposed to signing. At this point the legislature does not appear willing to re-negotiate any of the bills and seems set on a showdown in the courts. One citizen group has filed with the court, saying that Dayton's line-item veto was an unconstitutional violation of the separation of powers.
The Legislature has hired outside counsel, and it is assumed, will file a complaint making the same unconstitutional argument. The Speaker of the House, Kurt Daudt, and many others, have said that Gov. Dayton's veto is clearly unconstitutional. However, reading the state constitution, the language clearly gives governors the power to line-item veto spending appropriations. There are no qualifications or exceptions. Another constitutional provision states that the branches of government have separate powers; specifically that one branch of government cannot do the other branch's job. For example, the Legislature cannot try people for a crime, or adjudicate a contract dispute between two citizens.
There are no previous cases to guide the court. The court could site the judicial doctrine of "political question" and decline to take the case, essentially telling the Governor and the Legislature, "you created this mess, you clean it up."
Now that we're rested up, we'll keep watching for court filings. This may not be done yet. Stay tuned.
Bill Amberg, CCD Contract Lobbyist
The Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MNCCD) is a broad based coalition
of advocacy and provider organizations working to change public policy to improve the lives of people with disabilities through building awareness, providing education and engaging the community.
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