The Minnesota Watchdog Email Update May 19, 2017

Quote of the Week: “My God, Mr. Bragg, you have quarreled with every officer in the army, and now you are quarreling with yourself!”
– Memoirs of General Ulysses S. Grant

With just days until the 2017 legislative session expires Monday morning, Minnesotans are witnessing the all-too-familiar scenario of work remaining undone, with the prospect of a special session becoming more likely by the hour.

As this edition goes to press, none of the major appropriations bills has been agreed to by the governor and legislative leaders.

Thus, a special session is quite likely, given the logistics of passing bills prior to the legislature’s mandated adjournment date.

Here are the nuts and bolts regarding what needs to be done and how it has to be done, per Minnesota statutes and the state’s constitution.

Minnesota’s has a two-year (bi-ennial) budget cycle, which expires June 30th of odd numbered years.

If the state doesn’t have a budget by then, a government shut-down of every budget area undone happens until there is agreement on that budget area (e.g. education, public safety, transportation).

There is an exception in that Minnesota courts have deemed some governmental services “essential,” so that they must be funded and provided even if there is no agreement.

For the record, the Watchdog believes this court doctrine is unconstitutional as a violation of the Separation of Powers. The legislature alone has the power to appropriate monies from the treasury. The legislature may not be compelled by any court to appropriate money. Nowhere in the Minnesota Constitution is there language that authorizes the judicial branch appropriate money. Check Article III. Check Article XI, Section 1.

The state constitution, Article III, Section 12 dictates that the legislature not meet in session after the third Monday following the third Saturday in any year.

That means that the legislature can meet and pass bills this year until Monday, May 22nd at midnight. Chapter 3 of Minnesota Statutes defines a “legislative day” as running from 7AM through 7AM of the following calendar day.

It’s important to remember that this session is the first year of the bi-ennium and not the second.

Many Capitol folks believe that the constitution’s prohibition on passing bills the last day of session applies this year. It doesn’t.

Moreover, the governor does not have the ability to “pocket veto” bills this year, as this isn’t a “sine die” end of the legislative bi-ennium. Instead, it is only an interim adjournment until a date certain in 2018 that will be agreed to by each house soon.

Thus, there are logistical challenges to getting bills passed by this coming Monday.

First, the governor and legislative leaders still need to agree to “global” spending targets.

Next, the committee chairs of each appropriation area must meet and agree between them and with the governor’s staff on the details of not only how the money will be spent but what policy items may or may not be in them.

The bills must then be assembled and enrolled by non-partisan legislative staff, which can be a Hurculean task, given the sheer size and money involved. Staff must make sure every line of the bill matches the intent of policy makers. The numbers must add up and the language must give effect to legislative intent.

Then the bills must pass each house, be enrolled, and presented to the governor.

All of this gets very hard, given the calendar.

All of this gets, very, very hard because Speaker Daudt and Majority Leader Gazelka must deal with an erratic governor.

The Watchdog has spoken to multiple Capitol sources and checked the public record, both of which show a governor who backtracks, moves the goal posts, and contradicts himself regularly, making negotiations difficult at best.

Which brings us to Braxton Bragg, a Civil War era general known both for his lack of success on the battlefield and his strange demeanor.

There is a famous anecdote, perhaps apocryphal, about Bragg’s early years as a military officer. The story goes that Bragg was both a company commander and the quartermaster of a frontier post early in his career.

Bragg as commander submitted a requisition for supplies for his company, then as quartermaster declined to fill it. As company commander, he resubmitted the requisition, giving additional reasons for his requirements, but as the quartermaster he denied the request again. Realizing that he was at a personal impasse, he referred the matter to the post commandant, who exclaimed, “My God, Mr. Bragg, you have quarreled with every officer in the army, and now you are quarreling with yourself!”

Governor Dayton has indeed quarreled with himself both this session and every session since he assumed office in 2011.

For example, Dayton has argued with himself regarding spending targets, which has resulted in a moving target for the most fundamental issue of the session, how much to spend.

Dayton has argued with himself over transportation. He has publicly stated he would sign the transportation bill sent to him and then turned around and vetoed the bills sent to him, describing it as “deplorable.”

He has further argued with himself over policy provisions in spending bills. He has called for the elimination of them from the spending bills, yet his administration has argued all session for their inclusion.

For interested parties, check the omnibus Taxes bill. Most of the policy provisions in the bill are Dayton administration initiatives.

Dayton has argued with himself regarding timelines, first demanding that global budget targets be agreed to by late April and then arguing that he wouldn’t engage in those negotiations until the legislature had agreed amongst themselves, which was a May deadline.
Mark Dayton demanded that the legislature, House and Senate, first agree amongst themselves before he would enter negotiations with them.

Perhaps it is time for Daudt and Gazelka to tell Dayton they’re done negotiating with him until he is done negotiating with himself.

Because of what’s happening as described above, negotiations have broken down. While the governor is meeting with legislative leadership as this edition hits your inbox, there is little hope that global targets will be agreed to, with exception of the Agriculture bill.

Look for the House and Senate to assemble a second round of appropriations bills that make a last-ditch attempt to get the job done.

If past performance is any guide, Dayton will likely sign some of those bills and veto others, leading to a special session.

You heard it here first: Watch for Republicans to tee up and pass a constitutional amendment question dedicating sales taxes on auto-related items to roads and bridges if the governor doesn’t get serious about the subject.

The ballot question only needs a simple majority in each body and doesn’t need a gubernatorial signature.

This circumstance would hit the sweet spot of good public policy and good politics.
Transportation is important to a public growing tired of driving on congested and dangerous roads.

They’re receptive of a message that the governor has held up transportation funding because he wants to fund trains.

They’re receptive to a message that roads and bridges can be funded without raising taxes.
They’re receptive to constitutionally dedicating these auto-related taxes and protecting them from raids to fund pet projects like teaching homemakers to fish and providing taxpayer-funded abortions.

These ballot measures have passed rather easily in other states.

It’s time for Republicans to take the question of road funding to a higher authority – the taxpayer.