In a recent letter to House members, Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said that while the Legislature’s budget remains in legal limbo, lawmakers will receive no per diem allowances.
In addition, he said, as of Oct. 6 House members will receive no reimbursements for mileage or business travel, communication, out-of-state travel not previously approved by the speaker or travel within their districts. Also, he said, committee budget spending is suspended.
Daudt blamed the policy change on the loss of the House’s ongoing appropriation for the coming fiscal year. Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed the Legislature’s entire 2018-19 budget in late May.
While his veto was found unconstitutional by Ramsey County District Court Chief Judge John H. Guthmann on July 19, the Supreme Court ruled that Dayton had legally used the veto. However, it declined in its Sept. 8 order to rule on the spending impasse and instead sent the parties to mediation—which quickly collapsed. The budgetary part of their drama remains unresolved.
Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, who doubles as an Anoka County prosecutor, said she thinks the new policy means some interim legislative commission and committee hearings might get canceled if outstate lawmakers decide they can’t afford to travel to St. Paul without the prospect of reimbursement.
“If committee chairs or people who are organizing these meetings hear from people that are supposed to attend that they are not going to be able to make it, I think that then those hearings will not happen,” Hilstrom said.
She said Daudt’s decision to suspend spending was not unprecedented. “And given that they have not yet been able to reach resolution in the courtroom,” she said, “it was not unexpected.”
Hilstrom said she hopes the two sides will reengage in negotiations before the start of the next legislative session.
“I think the House of Representatives has an obligation to speak with the governor and attempt to negotiate a resolution to the situation that we are in,” Hilstrom said. “The people’s business needs to be happening.”
The Senate has not instituted quite as dramatic a spending freeze as the House.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, placed a freeze on new Senate hires in June and has also suspended payments for members’ out-of-state travel, according to a Senate spokesman. But the Senate has not yet stopped members from receiving per diem payments or other reimbursements.