The Minnesota Supreme Court has upheld Governor Mark Dayton’s line-item veto of appropriations for the Minnesota House and Senate for the 2018-2019 biennium. The Court acted with only a single dissent.
At the conclusion of the 2017 regular legislative session and following a brief special session, Democratic Governor Mark Dayton signed into law several omnibus tax and budget bills that contained provisions of which he disapproved. In an effort to force the Republican-controlled Legislature back to the negotiating table on those contested items, the Governor line-item vetoed the appropriations for the House and the Senate beginning July 1, 2017.
In response to the line-item veto, the Minnesota House and Senate commenced litigation in Ramsey County District Court, contesting the Governor’s action on grounds that it violated the Constitutional separation of powers, by preventing the Legislature from exercising its functions by depriving it of fiscal resources. The Legislature prevailed in the Ramsey County District Court, where the Governor’s line-item veto of the legislative budget was held to be an unconstitutional act. In the meantime, the Legislature and the Governor had stipulated to continued legislative funding until October 1, 2017.
The Supreme Court expressed great reluctance to enter into a political dispute between the other two branches of State government, the Executive and the Legislature. The Court asked attorneys for the Legislature to produce detailed budget information indicating how long the Legislature could continue to operate if it expended reserve funds and transferred other funds from Legislative operations not affected by the Governor’s veto. In the end, the Court concluded that the Legislature, with the benefit of the reserves and related funds, could continue to operate until the February 20, 2018 beginning of the next regular legislative session. At that time, the Legislature could override the Governor’s line-item veto, or the Legislature and the Governor could enter into negotiations over the items to which the Governor had objected at the conclusion of the 2017 session.
The Court left the door open to taking another look at the issues should the legislative budget run out, conceding that if it does, “Minnesotans may soon be deprived of their constitutional right to three independent branches of government, each functioning at a level sufficient to allow the exercise of the constitutional powers committed to each branch.” The Court encouraged the Legislature and Executive to “promote the constitutional cooperation Minnesotans expect and deserve.”
Legislative leaders from both sides indicated that the uncertainty of legislative funding, combined with deteriorating relationships between the Governor and Legislature, will lead to an unproductive 2018 legislative session.