Legislature seeks order to free up vetoed funds

Lawyers for the Minnesota Legislature made an emergency plea Wednesday to a judge, asking that Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration be forced to provide access to new funding instead of  requiring the House and Senate to exhaust reserves.

It’s related to a court battle over Dayton’s line-item veto in May of the appropriation for the two chambers. A temporary funding agreement between the Legislature and Dayton expired on Oct. 1. Dayton’s administration has advised the courts it won’t release new money to the Republican-controlled Legislature and would instead force the House and Senate to dip into their “carryover” reserve account.

In July, Ramsey County District Court Judge John Guthmann invalidated Dayton’s vetoes. But the governor appealed and the legal fight has been in the hands of the Minnesota Supreme Court since then. The high court initially ordered the sides into mediation, which failed. Since then, justices have sought more information about legislative reserve accounts and how long the branch will be able to limp along. The Supreme Court has yet to rule definitively if the vetoes will stand.

The new request petitions Guthmann to enforce his earlier order and allow the Legislature access to the money Dayton vetoed.

“The Defendants’ disregard for the Court’s Judgment effectively allows the Governor’s line-item vetoes to persist. This cannot be what the Court intended when it declared the Governor’s line-item vetoes unconstitutional, null and void,” wrote Doug Kelley, an attorney for the Legislature.

Without such intervention, layoffs or other slowdowns in spending, one or both of the legislative chambers could run short of money before the 2018 session convenes in February. There could be other workarounds though, including use of money from a shared account used to pay for joint expenses. Dayton didn’t veto that allowance and the Legislative Coordinating Commission also has money in reserve.

Until the money situation is cleared up, legislative leaders have scaled back on expense payments to lawmakers and urged committees to otherwise limit their activity.

Dayton’s legal team contends the Legislature could get by until next summer. The Democratic governor sought to force new negotiations over other budget and policy provisions he disliked but signed into law anyway. He said he would call a special session if an acceptable deal was struck.

The sides agreed in a separate court filing Wednesday that they would make additional arguments in writing by early November.