Shutdown court hearing grabs state government attention
Minnesota state government is focused on a Thursday court hearing about what could remain open during a government shutdown.
No high-level budget talks have convened for six days as top policymakers remain in a deadlock over a new two-year budget, but the governor and legislative leaders plan an afternoon meeting today.
Short of a last-minute surprise or the governor and lawmakers agreeing to temporarily continue some form of the current budget, at least a partial government shutdown will begin on July 1.
The courts likely will decide, among hundreds of other issues, if state troopers patrol the roads, if local governments receive state aid, if nursing homes are paid and if the Minnesota Sex Offender Program operates. When and how those decisions will be made is up to Chief Judge Kathleen Gearin of Ramsey County District Court, who will convene a Thursday hearing.
That hearing could be crowded as groups keep requesting to be part of the shutdown court case.
On Tuesday, the House Rules Committee voted to be part of the case.
The committee approved, on a divided vote, a resolution allowing Republican leadership to hire former state Chief Justice Eric Magnuson to represent the House.
"Our interest is very narrow and limited in scope," House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, said.
Magnuson's job is to make sure the courts do nothing to prevent the House from operating and to oppose Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton's proposal for the court to order a mediator get involved in the budget impasse.
A House Republican caucus spokeswoman said Magnuson and the House still are negotiating terms of an agreement, so it is not known how much he will cost the state.
Magnuson's pay will come from $4 million the House has in the bank, money that will not take a court's approval to be spent.
The equivalent Senate panel passed a similar resolution last week.
Most departments would be out of money July 1 without a budget, so Dayton and Attorney General Lori Swanson last week asked the courts to allow the state to spend money even though the current budget expires June 30.
Dayton presented a detailed list of what he wants to stay open in a shutdown, and would keep more than a third of the executive branch's 38,500 employees on the payroll.
The shutdown is likely because Republicans who control the Legislature and Dayton have not agreed on a budget for the two years beginning July 1. Republicans say they will spend no more than $34 billion, while Dayton wants a $35.8 billion target. Besides disagreeing on how much to spend, they also disagree on how the money should be spent.
The courts asked to be funded during a shutdown and a Monday hearing has been set by retired judge Bruce Christopherson of Yellow Medicine County to consider the request.
However, four Republican senators told the courts that judges have no authority to allow any state spending.
Sens. Scott Newman of Hutchinson, Sean Nienow of Cambridge, Warren Limmer of Maple Grove and Roger Chamberlain of Shoreview asked the courts to order Dayton to call a special legislative session so lawmakers can pass a budget. Other than a bill funding agriculture programs, Dayton vetoed the Republican-written budget bills passed in the regular legislative session that ended nearly a month ago and no progress has been made on new budget plans.
The Supreme Court gave the senators and attorney general until 11 a.m. today to file more documents, with Justice Allan Page saying the case will be expedited.
Organizations of health-care providers have asked courts to keep their funding flowing and on Tuesday Ramsey County joined in supporting Dayton and Swanson's requests for spending to continue.
Also on Tuesday, the state's public defenders asked to keep their funding. Other groups are considering getting involved.
On Tuesday, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system announced that it is rescinding more than 6,000 layoff notices it sent to employees.
MnSCU officials said they are confident classes on their 54 campuses will continue even if much of the rest of state government shuts down. However, a Minnesota Management and Budget spokesman said the issue remains up to the court to decide.