Judge hears shutdown funding argumentsA judge left no doubt Thursday that if she allows the state to spend money without a budget, the authority will be limited and only granted because she has no other choice.
By: Don Davis, State Capitol Bureau
ST. PAUL -- A judge left no doubt Thursday that if she allows the state to spend money without a budget, the authority will be limited and only granted because she has no other choice.
Chief Judge Kathleen Gearin of Ramsey County also took time to lecture the governor and lawmakers to complete a budget before a potential government shutdown on July 1 because “we are in a horrible, horrible dilemma.”
Gearin is expected to decide early next week if she will allow spending if Gov. Mark Dayton and legislators continue their budget impasse after the current budget ends June 30. The hearing lasted more than six hours.
The judge presided over the Thursday hearing facing 120 spectators, about 40 attorneys who wanted to be involved in the case and a couple dozen people standing in the hallway outside of the St. Paul courtroom after seats were full.
"This is as serious as it gets," Gearin said, more than once calling the situation a “constitutional crisis.”
While Gearin appeared to lean toward allowing some spending without a budget, she said she would not take over the jobs of Dayton and lawmakers.
“We can’t become the legislative branch, we can’t become the executive branch,” Gearin said of the courts.
Meetings for weeks have failed to produce any budget agreement.
Republicans say they will agree to no overall state budget for the two years beginning July 1 that spends more than $34 billion. They also refuse to consider tax increases.
Democrat Dayton wants to spend $35.8 billion, with a $1.8 billion tax increase on the best earning 2 percent of Minnesotans.
The two sides also disagree about how to spend money.
The Republican-controlled Legislature passed its budget before the Legislature adjourned May 23, but Dayton vetoed all but agriculture spending.
Once the current budget ends, most state agencies have no authority to spend money and the government would shut down.
Because of that, Attorney General Lori Swanson asked the courts to allow the governor, attorney general, secretary of state and state auditor to decide what was critical enough to continue to operate during a shutdown. Dayton told the courts he would make such spending decisions on his own and does not need court approval.
In the first hour of Thursday’s hearing, Gearin rejected Dayton's request to order a mediator to help produce a budget agreement between him and the Legislature. She also turned down a request that four Republican senators become involved in the case.
Gearin said the public is interested in what happens with the budget and urged Dayton and legislators to continue their talks.
“The clock is ticking,” Gearin said. “The other branches of government are still aware of their responsibility to take this out of the courts.”
The judge said that Dayton and legislators have “responsibility to resolve this constitutional crisis.”