OLA vs. Mark Dayton, Part I

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The battle between Gov. Dayton and the Legislature took another turn today when the Legislature’s attorney filed this brief with Minnesota’s Supreme Court. This brief was filed because the Supreme Court required the Legislature to tell the Court how much money it had available to operate.

Last week, Gov. Dayton accused the Legislature of lying to him, the people of Minnesota and to Minnesota’s Supreme Court because they allegedly didn’t disclose money allocated to the Legislative Coordinating Commission, aka the LCC. In his filing, Douglas A. Kelley, the attorney representing the Legislature, said ” There are two sources of funding the Legislature may use: the House and Senate carryforward funds, and funds appropriated to the Legislative Coordinating Commission (“LCC”). The use of these funds lies solely within the discretion of the Legislature, and no branch may force the Legislature, directly or indirectly, to exercise that discretion.”

Kelley continued, saying “Contrary to the Governor’s public assertions, the Legislature has been candid with this Court and the district court about funding available to support the operation of the House and Senate. The existence of the LCC funds is not news to the Governor or the courts. The Governor has argued throughout this case that his line-item vetoes were constitutional because the Legislature can access LCC funds. The district court rejected this argument, and ultimately concluded that the elimination of the Legislature’s appropriations prevented the Legislature from performing its constitutionally-mandated duties.”

This is another important part:

The Governor attempts to shift the blame for his actions to the victims. The Governor intentionally eliminated the funding for both the House and Senate for the entire 2018–2019 fiscal biennium. He intentionally did not eliminate the funding for the LCC. His stated aim was to coerce the Legislature into bending to his will by threatening their existence as a functioning body. Now, the Governor contends the House and Senate should ignore the appropriations process and victimize the very agencies he allowed to be funded. The Governor now suggests that the LCC voluntarily join the Legislature in plotting its own demise.

The Governor also argues that his line-item vetoes did not harm the Legislature because the Legislature had access to temporary injunction funding from July 1 to October 1, 2017. The premise underlying the Governor’s argument is false. The district court’s judgment unambiguously restored these appropriations to the Omnibus State Government Appropriations bill. That judgment was not stayed. The appropriations to the Legislature for the 2018–2019 fiscal biennium therefore passed into law and became effective July 1, 2017. The Governor and Commissioner Frans have simply decided to ignore the authority and judgment of the district court.

The Legislature has sole discretion on how it wants to use money appropriated to the LCC. The judicial and executive branches don’t have the constitutional authority to tell the other how it will utilize moneys properly appropriated to specific functions, especially since some of the money is required by statute to be spent on the Office of Legislative Auditor and the Revisor of statutes:

The LCC oversees legislative agencies that perform services supporting House and Senate operations. These agencies include the Revisor of Statutes, the Legislative Auditor, and the Legislative Reference Library, which provide essential services to the state. For example, the Revisor publishes the statutes, and drafts and publishes administrative rules. The Legislative Auditor conducts oversight of executive branch agency activities, and prepares comprehensive annual financial reports (audits) for all of state government. The Legislative Auditor’s functions are critical to the Legislature’s oversight of the executive branch, which is an essential component of the checks and balances system of government provided under the Minnesota Constitution.

I can’t picture the Supreme Court having the authority to tell the legislature to ignore statutorily-required spending. It’s one thing to make a ruling on a gray area. There’s nothing gray about maintaining the OLA and the Revisor of Statutes’ office.

If the Court rules in Gov. Dayton’s favor this time, they’ll risk their credibility as an institution. In their initial punt, they ruled that a) the line-item veto was constitutional, b) the people had a constitutional right to 3 fully functioning branches of government and c) constitutional provisions couldn’t be used “to achieve an unconstitutional result.” I’d argue that the Court doesn’t have the constitutional authority to ignore well-established state statutes.