Ramsey County Judge Kathleen Gearin reacted coolly this morning to a move from the two Republican legislative transportation chairs and the state’s contractors association to let as much as $100 million flow to road projects around the state despite the government shutdown.
“It really sounds like you want me to become an activist judge,” Gearin told the Republicans, Sen. Joe Gimse and Rep. Mike Beard, as they made their case in St. Paul Wednesday morning. “It sounds to me like you’re asking [Special Master Kathleen Blatz] and I to be super-activist judges.”
Gimse and Beard appeared before Gearin in an attempt to secure funding for 98 road construction projects around the state that they said were already underway. The commonly cited figure for the cost of such order is around $100 million, although Beard said it’s possible the number could end up being closer to the $30 million that was approved for projects in 2005.
On behalf of the attorney general’s office, Solicitor General Alan Gilbert said they would defer to Gearin’s original ruling and oppose the petition. The Dayton administration filed a brief (available here) opposing it explicitly.
In her original ruling June 29, Gearin explicitly said road construction that is not a matter of public safety or necessary maintenance — such as repairing a bridge that might be in danger of collapse — do not meet the standard of a “critical, core” function of government, and therefore must be stopped as long as the shutdown, and impasse at the Capitol, continues.
Beard, for his part, argued that the constitution requires the state to maintain a “trunk highway system,” and that leaving the projects in limbo was in fact potentially damaging to public safety. Allowing the projects to go forward, he continued, would also be in line with Gearin’s order that approves state spending on certain programs to preserve state property.
Despite Beard’s arguments, though, Gearin seemed undeterred. “I’m just having trouble changing my order,” she said flatly. “At what point do we need to have potholes filled on the highway? I mean, I don’t know.”
In looking to limit the petition even further — likely in the hopes of gaining Gearin’s favor in light of the reluctant stance she’s taken throughout the shutdown’s court proceedings — Beard suggested that perhaps only certain partially completed projects that met some more strict public safety standard could be allowed to continue. The executive branch and MnDOT, he suggested, could compile a list that either Gearin or Blatz could consider for approval.
But Gearin wasn’t interested in such a compromise. “[Blatz] didn’t sign up to be commissioner of transportation,” she replied. “I can assure you that’s not going to happen.”
Gearin took the issue under advisement, but warned that it may take some time to issue a ruling given the weight of the issues before her and the time it takes to consider each matter fully.