A Ramsey County District Court judge has ruled that Governor Mark Dayton’s line-item veto of funding for the legislature is unconstitutional. Dayton had vetoed the funding as a way to force Republican lawmakers back to the bargaining table on other issues. Governor Mark Dayton says he will appeal the ruling to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Judge John Gunthmann wrote in his decision that Dayton’s action violated the Separation of Powers clause ion the Minnesota constitution.
The Governor’s vetoes of the two items of appropriation in the Omnibus State Government Appropriations bill, chapter 4, article 1, section 2, subdivisions 2 and 3, violate the Separation of Powers clause of the Minnesota Constitution by impermissibly preventing the Legislature from exercising its constitutional powers and duties. MINN. CONST. art. IV, § 1; see id. art. III.
c. As a result of violating the Separation of Powers clause of the Minnesota Constitution, the Governor’s line-item vetoes are unconstitutional, null, and void.
d. Because the Governor’s line-item vetoes are unconstitutional, null, and void, those two items of appropriation became law with the rest of the bill.
Gunthmann said a combination of two things made the veto unconstitutional: Dayton’s motive and the fact that it “nullified” the legislature by defunding it.
As evidence of motive, Gunthmann pointed to Dayton’s veto message. “The Governor’s veto message makes it clear that the intended ‘end result of the act’ is to force legislation to repeal certain policy measures he signed into law that are unrelated to the vetoed appropriations.”
Gunthmann said the Governor does have the right to use a line-item veto to “coerce” the legislature and his ruling doesn’t limit that “so long as vetoing the appropriation does not nullify or effectively eliminate a branch of government or a constitutional office.”
Gunthmann said if Dayton had vetoed the funding because he objected “to the manner in which the Legislature funded itself” the veto would have been constitutional.
Dayton to appeal
Governor Mark Dayton issued a statement saying he would appeal.
“Today’s District Court ruling is only a preliminary step in this case’s judicial process. The Stipulation, which the House, Senate, and I filed with the District Court Judge in June, states, ‘The parties agree to jointly seek accelerated review by the Minnesota Supreme Court of the District Court’s order or judgment,’ (June 23, 2017, paragraph 4). Accordingly, I have asked Sam Hanson, my legal counsel, to appeal this decision to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
“It is unfortunate that Republican Legislative Leaders are using this ruling to avoid completing their work by correcting their serious errors in the last Legislative Session. From the beginning of my administration, I have worked hard to restore sound fiscal integrity to our State Government. My line-item veto was targeted to achieve this result. As I have said, the tax bill passed last May by Republican Legislators jeopardizes Minnesota’s structurally balanced budget in the future. By working together, Republican Leaders could join with me to remove fiscally irresponsible tax cuts and also to eliminate the un-Minnesotan attacks on our state’s immigrant communities and our dedicated teachers.
“I will continue to fight for fiscally sound budgets and policies that benefit all Minnesotans.”
GOP Reaction and full text of ruling
House Speaker Kurt Daudt who had pressed the suit urged Dayton not to appeal the case to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
“Today Minnesotans won. We are pleased the court has agreed to protect their voice at the Capitol and ruled Governor Dayton’s unconstitutional veto of the Legislature to be ‘null and void.’ We encourage the governor to accept the court’s decision.”
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka also issued a statement saying
“Today the court ruled an entire branch of government cannot be eliminated by a stroke of the governor’s pen. The governor should accept this verdict and allow the people of Minnesota to move on, instead of continuing to waste taxpayer dollars on expensive litigation. However, if he chooses to appeal, we will continue to defend Minnesotans’ constitutional rights to locally elected representation all the way to the Supreme Court.”