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Court says Minnesota Legislature has enough money to remain open

Minnesota legislative leaders listen to Senate Secretary Cal Ludeman on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017, as they consider how to react to a governor's veto of Legislature funding. From left are Assistant Senate Majority Leader Gary Dahms of Redwood Falls, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka of Nisswa, Senate President Michelle Fischbach of Paynesville, House Speaker Kurt Daudt of Crown, House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin of Rogers and Rep. Chaska. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 3
Minnesota Senate Secretary Cal Ludeman tells legislative leaders on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017, that the Senate has a little more than a month of money left after Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed the Legislature's funding on May 30. Don Davis / Forum News Service2 / 3
Minnesota Senate President Michelle Fischbach of Paynesville and House Speaker Kurt Daudt of Crown get in a laugh before a Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017, meeting in which legislative leaders discussed the goveror's veto of Legisalture funding. Don Davis / Forum News Service3 / 3

ST. PAUL — Gov. Mark Dayton's veto of legislative funding was constitutional, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Thursday, Nov. 16.

A majority of justices upheld the veto and send the case back to a district court judge to dismiss the case.

Justices said they believe the Legislature has enough money to reach its next session, to begin Feb. 20. Legislative leaders, on the other hand, say they cannot make it that far.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, says his chamber will run out of money in a month and a half without an infusion of funds. The House may have enough money to carry it into February, lawmakers say.

Five of the seven justices said Dayton appropriately cast his veto. Justice David Stras, who has been nominated to serve on a federal court, did not take part in the ruling. Justice G. Barry Anderson desented.

The majority of justices said the state Constitution does not allow them to order the Legislature to be funded, but "the record establishes that the Legislature has funding to sustain it until it reconvenes in regular session."

A House-Senate commission was meeting to discuss whether money could be found to keep the Senate operating a little longer Thursday morning, but recessed when the court opinion was released at 10 a.m. Committee members were to return later to continue discussion and possibly transfer money from a department that Dayton did fund to the Senate.

Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed the Legislature's $130 million two-year budget May 30, an attempt to get lawmakers to return to a special session and remove five provisions in bills he already had signed, especially dealing with taxes, that he does not like. Republicans who control the Legislature refused to resume negotiations on bills Dayton had signed into law and sued the governor, saying he essentially eliminated the Legislature with his veto.

The Supreme Court earlier ordered the two sides into mediation, which failed after a few days of talks.

Dayton and GOP leaders have argued about whether the Legislature has funding to last until the next session, which begins Feb. 20.

"They've got enough money," Dayton said Wednesday. "I don't know why they're continuing with this obfuscation ... other than they're unwilling to admit that they're wrong."

In late September, the high court ordered legislative leaders to provide complete information on what funds they have available.

Without money, legislative leaders said they would be forced to lay off employees and shut down their offices. Lawmakers would not be paid.

Also, the leaders say, preparation needed for the next session could not be done and constituent work, like helping Minnesotans with problems they have with government, could not be handled.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.