Legislature lays groundwork to sue Minnesota governor

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  1. PAUL — The Minnesota Legislature is preparing to sue the governor.

A legislative committee plans a Friday, June 2, meeting to consider hiring a lawyer after Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed legislative funding for the next two years.

"Yesterday, the governor took an unconstitutional step to defund the Legislature, attempting to silence both the House and Senate..." House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said. "The governor has left the Legislature no choice but to seek outside counsel in an effort to defend the people's voice at the Capitol."

Daudt chairs the Legislative Coordinating Commission that meets Friday, so it is likely that a lawyer will be retained. He said Tuesday night that the Legislature needs to go to court.

The action follows Democrat Dayton's Tuesday night veto of $130 million in legislative funding for the two years beginning July 1. He said he vetoed the funding because he did not like a late addition to one bill and he wants lawmakers to return to a special session so they can overturn five provisions in bills he just signed as well as re-passing their budget.

The provision tucked into a state government funding bill that upset Dayton would have cut off state Revenue Department funding if he did not sign a tax bill containing many Republican-written tax cuts. Daudt admitted that Republicans who control the Legislature did not tell Dayton about the provision, but said the governor had the final bill in plenty of time to find it.

Dayton said the provision held the Revenue Department, with 1,300 employees, hostage.

"The bill intrudes upon my authority to manage the executive branch of state government," Dayton wrote to legislative leaders.

Daudt began laying out the Legislature's case during a Wednesday radio interview. He said that Dayton's veto, if allowed to stand, makes his executive branch more powerful than the legislative branch. All three branches of government, which also include the courts, are supposed to be equal.

A memorandum to reporters from House Republicans said the Dayton veto was unconstitutional, citing the constitutional clause that says someone in one branch may not "exercise any of the powers properly belonging to either of the others."

The governor said neither the Legislature not the governor will have the final say about whether the Legislature is funded. "The courts will ultimately have to resolve it. There isn't case law directly applicable to this."

Dayton said it was his idea to veto legislative funding.

The Legislature is funded through June 30, but legislative leaders said their reserve funds would disappear quickly after that.

On another issue, Dayton announced at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday that he would let the tax bill lawmakers passed in a special legislative session last week become law without his signature. However, by 11 p.m. he had changed his mind after it became unclear whether not signing the bill meant it would become law or it would be considered a veto.

"There was a lack of clarity," Dayton told reporters Wednesday, adding that "we were getting different and even conflicting legal opinions."

To clear up the confusion, he said, he went ahead and signed the tax bill even though he did not like parts of it.

Dayton said the "bill has many positive features," including a child care tax credit, increased aid for local governments and lower property taxes on farmland.

However, the Democratic governor said, the Republican-written bill also contains items he opposes, including reversing tobacco tax increases. He also objected to a freeze on statewide business property tax levies, which he said would cost the state more than $1 billion over 10 years.

He complained that the bill takes too much money out of the state budget, with it expanding in future years.

The bill contains several features, including the farm property tax break, for greater Minnesota residents.

Rural Minnesota Republicans have complained that the Dayton administration is not treating them well.

"A sign that there may be a truce on the war on agriculture is a signature on the tax bill," Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, said. "There is property tax relief for farmers in there. There also is very important buffer funding in there for counties. ... If that money is not in there, those efforts will not succeed and the war on agriculture will continue."

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said that Dayton and Republicans who control the Legislature compromised on buffers, the Dayton-pushed requirement that there be vegetation between most cropland and water. The 2015 law is Dayton's signature clean-water initiative.

Part of the compromise is that farmers can apply for an eight-month delay to the deadline many faced this fall to install buffers.

The bill also includes tax breaks for beginning farmers.

Work soon will begin across the state on nearly $1 billion in public construction projects funded in a bonding bill that Dayton signed.

It will pay for new construction and repairs for public colleges and universities, local roads and bridges, state hospitals and prisons, sewer and water projects, parks, trails and affordable housing.

Among the high-profile projects are $165 million for road and bridge improvements, $70 million to complete renovation of the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter, $67 million for a new University of Minnesota health sciences education center in Minneapolis, $65 million for low-income housing grants and $55 million for wastewater and drinking water systems.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press, a Forum News Service media partner, contributed to this report.