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Gov. Mark Dayton said on Oct. 17 that if the Supreme Court does not rule on his legal appeal before the February legislative session, he will stand his ground on five concessions he had demanded in advance of a proposed summertime special session. (Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)
Gov. Mark Dayton said on Oct. 17 that if the Supreme Court does not rule on his legal appeal before the February legislative session, he will stand his ground on five concessions he had demanded in advance of a proposed summertime special session. (Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)

If court doesn’t rule, Dayton plans to stand his ground

Had he known how much money the Legislature was sitting on before vetoing its funding and demanding that lawmakers return for another special session, Gov. Mark Dayton said Oct. 17, he might have pursued another course.

What other course he might have taken Dayton did not specify. But he did hint at what he might do come February.

His statements came at a Capitol press conference where Dayton was asked whether — as some critics contend — he has lost leverage over the Legislature in his bid to force lawmakers back to the bargaining table in order to restore their biennial budget.

The governor, by line-item vetoing House and Senate appropriations on May 30, accused lawmakers of leaving their work unfinished. His veto statement said he would bring the bodies back for special session only if they agreed to ditch three prized GOP tax cuts and two policy provisions contained in bills he had already signed. Lawmakers refused and sued the governor.

In an Oct. 5 memo to the court, Dayton’s attorney Sam Hanson said that — if funds meant for the Legislative Coordinating Commission are factored in — the Legislature has enough money on hand to operate potentially into the fall of 2018.

If that’s true, critics have said, then Dayton lacks leverage to force lawmakers back to the bargaining table. All the Legislature must do, they say, is wait until the next regular session, pass a bill restoring its funds and hand it bill off for the governor either to sign or veto.

At the press conference, Dayton accused lawmakers of failing to let either his office or the courts know how much money they have at their disposal.

“If we had known that last May, it would have dictated probably a different course of action,” Dayton said. “But I didn’t have that information. And the Supreme Court didn’t have that information, right up to the time of the oral hearing.”

In the Legislature’s Oct. 5 memo to the Supreme Court, attorney Doug Kelley denied that lawmakers withheld that information. Kelley said it was Dayton’s legal team that first pointed to the availability of Legislative Coordinating Commission funds, so no secrets were being kept.

“The existence of the LCC funds is not news to the governor or the courts,” Kelley wrote.

The Supreme Court, which accepted Dayton’s appeal of a negative lower court ruling, issued an order on Sept. 8. It said that Dayton used his line-item veto constitutionally. But it expressed concern that the veto posed a threat to the Legislature’s constitutional right to exist. It took no action to resolve the funding dispute, instead ordering the parties to mediation — which promptly failed.

Some legal observers say the court has signaled strong reluctance to step in and resolve the political dispute. Therefore, they suggest, the court might be unwilling to issue a final ruling before the February start of the 2018 legislative session. At that point, the parties could work out the controversy for themselves.

Dayton noted that there is no way to predict what justices will do. But if they take no action before session’s start, he said, he will stand his ground on the five concessions he demanded as a precondition of the proposed summer special session.

“What I was asking was for the Legislature to come back in the interim and negotiate revisions or rescissions to those five items and then bring it to a special session,” Dayton said last week.

“But as I said at the time,” he added, “if it doesn’t happen that way — if they are not willing to that, or whatever — I would take them to the regular session next February. Which I will do.”

The five concessions he demanded include rescinding three tax cuts — one aimed at cigarette and cigar smokers; one for wealthy estates; and the other on business property. He also wants lawmakers to rescind their prohibition on undocumented immigrant driver’s licenses and roll back teacher licensing reforms.

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