Updated at 5:45 p.m. to correct how lawmakers paychecks affected
The Minnesota Legislature would begin shutting down operations in late July — with hundreds of staff members sidelined in two waves — if funding for the House and Senate is choked off, lawyers write in documents filed Thursday in a lawsuit seeking to nullify Gov. Mark Dayton’s line item veto.
The filing provides the first detailed look at how the Legislature would deal with fallout from the veto of operating funds for the House and Senate if lawmakers aren’t successful in getting a court to overturn Dayton’s action. A Ramsey County District Court judge is set to hear arguments Monday on whether to issue a restraining order or otherwise block the veto from taking force.
“The governor’s vetoes will wreak significant and widespread financial harm upon the Legislature and the state as a whole. Employees will be furloughed and later terminated; the Senate will default on its lease payments for the Minnesota Senate Building; and the state’s credit rating will likely be downgraded ‘several notches’ as a result,” wrote Doug Kelley, the attorney hired by the Legislature to challenge the veto.
Dayton’s legal team, led by former state Supreme Court Justice Sam Hanson, had its own filings Thursday that defended his veto and sought a deep look at House and Senate finances to determine what are critical expenses to operate those chambers in the absence of a full funding agreement.
“If plaintiffs are unwilling to reach an agreement with the governor on appropriations, the Minnesota Constitution does not entitle them to obtain an appropriation, but only to receive, by court order, the minimum funding strictly necessary to perform the Senate and House’s critical, core functions, if and when that funding ever becomes necessary,” Hanson wrote.
Lawyers for the Legislature painted a grim picture.
The Senate, which has about $3.9 million in reserve, would be the first to furlough staff members. That would happen on July 28, putting all but three of the Senate’s 205 staff members out of work. They would continue to have the employer portion of health costs paid but wouldn’t receive a paycheck. Full layoffs would occur months later, but that would force the state to pay out accrued time off to those affected.
In the House, furloughs would hit on Sept. 1, affecting 213 of the 232 permanent staff. At the end of October, layoffs would commence. The House expects to have $11.3 million in available money on July 1.
Paychecks for lawmakers would continue until July 31 in the Senate, although travel and other expense allowances would cease sooner. House members would see their paychecks halted after Aug. 31 and wouldn’t be able to collect expenses beginning in July.
Republican legislative leaders contend Dayton exceeded his authority when he struck down funding for the House and Senate while signing the rest of a state budget. At the time, Dayton said it was a response to a measure the Legislature passed that make funding for the Department of Revenue conditional on him signing a separate tax-cut measure.
The DFL governor said he would call lawmakers back into special session to approve a new legislative budget but only if they agreed to other concessions.
Kelley’s court filing said Dayton’s motive for his line-item veto was impure and therefore the veto is null and void. Kelley cited sections of the constitution that indicate the governor’s veto power applies to items he objects to. Kelley said Dayton didn’t take issue with the funding amounts themselves and actually supported similar levels in his own recommendations.
“Once one recognizes that ‘objecting’ is a core requirement of the use of the constitutional veto power, it is clear that Governor Dayton’s use of the power here, where he has no objection to the appropriations at issue, exceeds the constitutional limits of the power and must be voided by the court,” Kelley wrote.
Hanson pushed back on that notion in his court brief.
“The governor has explicit and unqualified authority under the Minnesota Constitution to line-item veto any item of appropriation,” he wrote, adding later, “The Minnesota Constitution authorizes the governor’s line-item vetoes, without any qualification as to the governor’s subjective intent or purpose. “