After budget veto, Minnesota Senate plans to shut down in July; House in September
ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Senate plans to shut down in July and the House in September in response to Gov. Mark Dayton's veto of legislative funding, the Legislature told a district court Thursday, June 22.
Last month, Dayton vetoed the $130-million, two-year budget for the Legislature in an attempt to bring lawmakers back to the negotiating table. The Legislature sued over the vetoes. The case will have its first hearing in Ramsey County District Court on Monday.
The plans released Thursday add new drama to the showdown between the Democratic governor and the Republican-led Legislature. Minnesota governors are constitutionally empowered to line-item veto parts of budgets lawmakers send to them. But the constitution also outlines a role for lawmakers.
The court filings from the Legislature, basically, say that without a budget allocation the Legislature will stop operating.
"The people of this state will suffer great and irreparable harm without immediate judicial relief," the Legislature's filings says.
The House and Senate filings say they plan to use reserve funds for operations starting July 1. But when that money run out, they will shutdown, furlough or layoff all staff, and stop paying lawmakers' salaries.
In an interview on Thursday, Dayton said he worries about the legislative staff who have been caught in the middle.
"I'm not trying to inflict hardship on people who are not responsible for this disagreement," the governor said. "At this point we are looking at and are in discussion ... about some options."
But the governor's court filings says Dayton was well within his constitutional power to veto funding. Adding, "the governor's vetoes do not "unfund" the Legislature," because he left in place the $35 million budget for the Legislative Coordinating Commission.
Dayton's court filings further claims that Minnesotans can still contact their lawmakers, even if the lawmakers or their staff are not paid. The Legislature has finished its Capitol work for the year but is expected to start a new session in February. Work between sessions, the governor's filings said, is not a core function of the Legislature.
While the Senate raised the specter of lawmakers and staff being evicted if it does not pay its monthly lease payments to the state, the governor's filings says the state has no plan to "remove persons or property from the Minnesota Senate Building."
Further, a gubernatorial filing said: "Gov. Dayton remains willing to listen to the Senate and House's requests for funding necessary for them to perform their critical, core functions." In another filing, he welcomed the court to appoint a 'special master' to pay for those needed functions.
While Dayton vetoed the Legislature's budget in reaction to a lawmakers tucking a provision in one bill that would have meant defunding of the state's Revenue Department if a $650 million tax bill were not signed, "the motive or intent behind a veto is not legally relevant to a veto's validity," a Dayton filing says.
Dayton has said he would invite lawmakers back into a special session to restore the budget, if they agree to five demands in the process.
No raises, expense payments in the House
Meanwhile, House Speaker Kurt Daudt told members that they will not receive expense payments but will get their housing stipends and salaries while courts sort out the budget.
In a memo Daudt sent, a copy of which was received by the Pioneer Press, the speaker said committees will not be able to spend and House members' travel — both inside their districts and elsewhere — will not be reimbursed.
"Once the pending legal issues are resolved (which we hope will occur swiftly), these policies will no longer be necessary," the Crown-area Republican's memo said.
But the House is also getting sued. A separate companion case, also due for a hearing Monday, says that Daudt's refusal to give lawmakers the raises a constitutional process decreed cannot stand.
"Legislator pay is not discretionary," that lawsuit says.
In his memo, Daudt said while lawmakers salaries will be paid in July and August, they will be paid at the current rate — not the $45,000 a panel prescribed. Those raises, from the current $31,000 a year, are due to take effect on July 1.
Despite his recent memo, the House's court filing on Thursday said that the lawsuit over legislator pay came too early.
"(The House has) no duty to raise salaries until July 1, 2017. Because it is not yet July1, (the House has) not "failed to perform an official duty clearly imposed by law," the House said.
Daudt's memo also said the House will continue to pay for members' housing costs, a perk for Greater Minnesota members who need Twin Cities area housing, and health insurance payments through August. In a court filing, the Senate said it plans to pay for senators' housing allowance through the end of the year.
Daudt did not return a message seeking comment.
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