With only a few days until the end of the current biennium, Governor Dayton and legislative leaders remain deadlocked over a budget agreement. The Legislature adopted a $34 billion budget, while Governor Dayton proposed a $3.6 billion income tax increase and spending approximately $37.6 billion. Since Governor Dayton proposed dropping his income tax increase to $1.8 billion, he and the legislative leaders have been negotiating unsuccessfully on a final compromise.
As time runs out on a budget solution, the judiciary is wrestling with momentous decisions. If the legislative leadership and the governor cannot reach a budget agreement, the courts will play the pivotal role by determining whether the constitution allows appropriations for some level of essential services in the absence of an appropriation.
Ramsey County District Judge Gearin is considering the governor's assertion that a governor has inherent power to fund certain functions in the event of a budget impasse. Judge Gearin may follow the precedent established in 2005 to allow funding for core services and appoint a "special master" to sort out which services should be deemed essential and thus funded. Whatever Judge Gearin decides (assuming no negotiated budget resolution), the decision is almost certain to be appealed.
Attorney General Swanson has argued that each government entity be allowed to determine which core functions it must perform during a government shutdown. Governor Dayton quickly submitted his own response to the attorney general's petition in which he first urged the court to appoint a mediator and then argued his position that the governor has certain inherent powers which may be invoked in the event that an appropriation is not approved. The governor's response states: "The Governor plans to proceed carefully in invoking the inherent powers of his office. … But if he must take action to protect the lives and safety of the people of Minnesota, he will."
The governor's response further argues against the "sweeping relief" requested by the attorney general: "… if the court issues an order other than to mediate, it should be based on the Governor's determination of what priority critical services must be continued….In the event that the Governor must invoke inherent and statutory powers, the Governor will direct that recommended Priority 1 and Priority 2 Critical Services be continued. In the event that the Court should decide to grant relief in the nature of an order continuing critical services, the Governor submits that the order should focus on the same Critical Services."
The attorney general's petition and the Governor's response quickly drew a deluge of public concern and numerous briefs, memorandums, and notices of interventions by affected organizations. Some of the concern drew a supplemental response from the governor in which he added the payment of various providers and vendors of the Department of Human Services, including Medicaid, MinnesotaCare, Group Residential Housing, and other programs to his list of critical services and core functions.
Other organizations that have submitted some type of formal response to date include:
- MN Association of Treatment Programs
- Care Providers of MN
- Association of Residential Resources
- Minnesota State Board of Public Defense
- MN Hospital Association
- MN Workforce Council Association
- Associated General Contractors of MN
- Hennepin County
- MN Coalition against Sexual Assault
- MN AIDS Project
- Vinland National Center
- MN Coalition of Battered Women
- MN School Boards Association
- League of MN Cities, Coalition of Greater MN Cities and the City of St. Paul
- Child Care Works
- Minnesota Licensed Family Child Care Association
- School Readiness Funders Coalition
- Service Employees International Union Local 284 (SEIU)
- Minnesota Zoo
- Minnesota Horseman Association
- Minnesota Habilitation Coalition
- Karen Organization of Minnesota
In addition, four state Republican Senators (Senators Limmer, Chamberlain, Newman, and Nienow) submitted a petition to intervene and argued that the attorney general and the governor are attempting to "circumvent, for political reasons, the provisions of the Minnesota Constitution allowing for expenditure of state money only by way of a properly passed appropriation bill." The Minnesota Senate and the House also filed responses, which opposed the appointment of a mediator, argued that the granting of powers to the executive branch to spend money without a legislative appropriation is not allowed under Minnesota's constitution, and that the governor has no inherent power to direct funding for critical services. Their petitions also requested approval to use carryover funds to pay for legislative expenses.
Judge Gearin spent a full day hearing the various petitions and motions. The court determined that it did not have the power to appoint a mediator and that the four Senators are represented by the Senate's submitted response. Judge Gearin several times expressed her desire that these issues be resolved by a budget solution between the governor and legislative leadership. She indicated her decision would be issued early in the week of June 27.
The judicial system also submitted a petition for funding of the courts. The District Court heard the courts' petitions on Monday, June 27. In the case of the courts' petitions, Judge Gearin, who heard all other shutdown petitions, recused herself, and the Minnesota Supreme Court appointed retired Judge Bruce Christopherson to hear the petition for funding as submitted by the state's judicial branch.