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Minn. Supreme Court rules Gov. Dayton's veto of legislative budget as constitutional

Mark Dayton

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Supreme Court on Friday, Sept. 8, decided that Gov. Mark Dayton's veto of the House and Senate budgets earlier this year was constitutional.

"We hold that the governor's exercise of his line item veto authority...was constitutional," Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Gildea wrote. "This conclusion, however, does not end the matter."

The justice wrote that the court does not find it has the authority to order the Legislature funded, as did a previous district court, while the dispute goes on. Therefore it ordered Dayton, a Democrat, and the Republican Legislature back into talks with a mediator.

The order, which runs only six pages and does not have the legal weight of a decision, temporary resolves the constitutional showdown over Dayton's line-item veto of $130 million worth of legislative funding. But the case is still ongoing — the high court did not order the case remanded back to the Ramsey Court district court that decided Dayton's veto was unconstitutional.

Still, Dayton said he was pleased with the order.

"I am very pleased that my constitutional right to line-item veto certain appropriations for the Minnesota House and Senate...was upheld by the Minnesota Supreme Court," he said. He also said he was happy to begin mediation with the Legislature, blaming lawmakers for bringing the issue to court, rather than the bargaining table.

"I remain ready and very willing to engage in those negotiations immediately. I have asked my legal team to contact their legislative counterparts to begin to resolve this matter," he said.

The Minnesota Constitution, in what the court called its "plain language", gives governors the power to veto lines of appropriation. Dayton, the court said in its Friday decision, was within his constitutional right to use that power over the House and Senate budgets.

But the Supreme Court order shows the next steps are more complicated.

The constitution also requires the state to have legislative, executive and judicial branches. But veto plus Dayton's and the Legislature's lack of a political solution may put that at risk.

"Minnesotans may soon be deprived of their constitutional right to three independent branches of government," the court wrote.

Since June, despite Dayton's veto, the Legislature has continued to be funded. That's because Ramsey County District Judge John Guthmann, at the request of the governor and the Legislature, ordered funds to keep flowing.

But the high court cast doubt on any court's ability to order the state to fund any branch of government.

"We are unaware of any authority that allows the judicial branch to authorize spending simply because parties ask a court to do so," Gildea wrote in behalf of the court.

Therefore the order demanded the party's find a mediator to resolve their differences by next week. The court further ordered both the governor and the Legislature to write memos that address "the constitutionality of the judicial branch ordering funding to the Legislature."

Ramsey County courts have ordered funding for government functions before. It did so in 2011 and 2005 when the government shutdown and previously when it threatened to shut down in 2001.

Dayton's attorney, former Supreme Court justice Sam Hanson, said the system of courts ordering funding has become "the law of Ramsey County." But the high court has never put its signature on such funding and justices made clear last month they were reticent to do so.

Gildea, like one other member of the court that issued the ruling, is a Republican appointee. The rest were appointed by Dayton. Justice David Stras, another Republican member of the court, recused himself in the case.

There were no dissents listed in the six-page order.