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Supreme Court to issue Minnesota legislative veto opinion Thursday

Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea asks questions during oral arguments as the Minnesota Supreme Court meets at the State Capitol in St. Paul on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. Photo by Leila Navidi

ST. PAUL—Minnesotans soon may know if their Legislature can stay in business.

The state Supreme Court plans to release an opinion at 10 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 16, on a lawsuit challenging Gov. Mark Dayton's veto of legislative funding.

As usual, a formal announcement to all parties involved in the suit gave no indication about whether the justices will decide once and for all whether the Legislature gets funding. The court could do any of a number of things, including sending the case back to a district court judge, although probably with some guidelines about what he can consider.

At stake is whether the Legislature runs out of money. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, says that without an infusion of money, Senate funds will run out Dec. 1.

However, he is asking the Legislative Coordinating Commission for money that could extend the Senate's life until Jan. 12. That commission already had been scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. Thursday, an hour before the court ruling is due. A spokeswoman for House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said the meeting would go ahead as scheduled.

The House has more money in reserve than the Senate and could remain operating further into 2018.

Dayton vetoed the Legislature's $130 million two-year budget in May, an attempt to get lawmakers to return to a special session and remove five provisions in bills he already had signed, especially some 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 has not definitively ruled on the case. It did, however, order 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.