House and Senate swiftly approve vetoed funds
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota’s Legislature moved quickly on Thursday to restore its $130 million operating budget, putting the months-long legal battle with Gov. Mark Dayton over his veto of that funding behind to rest as the legislative session gears up.
After months of bickering and a costly legal case that consumed much of the spring, summer and fall of 2017, Thursday’s votes brought the battle between branches of government to an unceremonious close. The approval by the House and the Senate comes just two days into the new legislative session, and Dayton has said he’ll sign it.
“We have a level of understanding that this was going to happen,” House Speaker Kurt Daudt said. “I’m glad that we’re moving forwarded and it will be good to put this behind us.”
The episode began in May, when Dayton signed the bulk of a $46 billion, two-year budget but used his line-item veto pen on the Legislature’s $130 million budget, hoping to bring Republican legislative leaders back to the negotiating table to rework several costly tax breaks and other measures.
But Republicans called it a blatant constitutional violation and sued Dayton, bringing the case all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court. The state’s highest court upheld Dayton’s veto late last year, forcing the Legislature to hobble into session running on emergency funds and further inflaming tension between the two sides.
Despite the quick restoration, some Republicans squeezed in some parting shots Thursday at the governor.
Rep. Sarah Anderson called the situation “an embarrassment to the state of Minnesota, to see a governor who thinks he can just eliminate a branch of government.”
Many Democrats in both the House and Senate voted against the bill to restore the funding for themselves and their staff, arguing the Legislature should have also ratified a new contract with modest raises for the state’s 33,000 public employees.
The budget approved Thursday does not include any additional funding to cover the Legislature’s legal tab in its case against Dayton, though it’s still unclear how much that may be. And though lawmakers will continue collecting a $14,000 annual raise — the Legislature’s new, $45,000 salary set by a voter-created panel took effect in July — the budget approved Thursday did not increase to account for that higher pay.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk said that exclusion would force the Senate to cover the bigger paychecks by dipping into its budget reserve, to the tune of $2.2 million over the two-year budget cycle.