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State budget shutdown funding hearing ends, judge lectures state leaders

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Update 4:30 p.m.

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ST. PAUL -- A judge left no doubt today that if she allows the state to spend money without a budget, the authority will be limited and only granted because she has no other choice.

Chief Judge Kathleen Gearin of Ramsey County also took time to lecture the governor and lawmakers to complete a budget before a potential government shutdown on July 1 because "we are in a horrible, horrible dilemma."

Gearin is expected to decide early next week if she will allow spending if Gov. Mark Dayton and legislators continue their budget impasse after the current budget ends June 30. The hearing lasted more than six hours.

The judge presided over the Thursday hearing facing 120 spectators, about 40 attorneys who wanted to be involved in the case and a couple dozen people standing in the hallway outside of the St. Paul courtroom after seats were full.

"This is as serious as it gets," Gearin said, more than once calling the situation a "constitutional crisis."

While Gearin appeared to lean toward allowing some spending without a budget, she said she would not take over the jobs of Dayton and lawmakers.

"We can't become the legislative branch, we can't become the executive branch," Gearin said of the courts.

Meetings for weeks have failed to produce any budget agreement.

Republicans say they will agree to no overall state budget for the two years beginning July 1 that spends more than $34 billion. They also refuse to consider tax increases.

Democrat Dayton wants to spend $35.8 billion, with a $1.8 billion tax increase on the best earning 2 percent of Minnesotans.

The two sides also disagree about how to spend money.

The Republican-controlled Legislature passed its budget before the Legislature adjourned May 23, but Dayton vetoed all but agriculture spending.

Once the current budget ends, most state agencies have no authority to spend money and the government would shut down.

Because of that, Attorney General Lori Swanson asked the courts to allow the governor, attorney general, secretary of state and state auditor to decide what was critical enough to continue to operate during a shutdown. Dayton told the courts he would make such spending decisions on his own and does not need court approval.

In the first hour of Thursday's hearing, Gearin rejected Dayton's request to order a mediator to help produce a budget agreement between him and the Legislature. She also turned down a request that four Republican senators become involved in the case.

Gearin said the public is interested in what happens with the budget and urged Dayton and legislators to continue their talks.

"The clock is ticking," Gearin said. "The other branches of government are still aware of their responsibility to take this out of the courts."

The judge said that Dayton and legislators have "responsibility to resolve this constitutional crisis."

Former Attorney General Mike Hatch spoke about a 24-year-old Medicaid patient named Jenny Taylor, who got notice last week with almost 600,000 others that a shutdown could interrupt state-subsidized health care coverage.

"She is the face of what government is about," Hatch said. "Jenny is what we are talking about here today."

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

State budget shutdown funding hearing begins

Update 3:30 p.m.

ST. PAUL -- A judge left no doubt today that if she allows the state to spend money without a budget, the authority will be limited and only granted because she has no other choice.

Chief Judge Kathleen Gearin of Ramsey County also took time to lecture the governor and lawmakers to complete a budget before a potential government shutdown on July 1 because "we are in a horrible, horrible dilemma."

Gearin is expected to decide Friday if she will allow spending if Gov. Mark Dayton and legislators continue their budget impasse after the current budget ends June 30.

The judge began what she said likely will be a two-day hearing facing 120 spectators, about 40 attorneys who wanted to be involved in the case and a couple dozen people standing in the hallway outside of the St. Paul courtroom.

"This is as serious as it gets," Gearin said, more than once calling the situation a "constitutional crisis."

While Gearin appeared to lean toward allowing some spending without a budget, she said she would not take over the jobs of Dayton and lawmakers.

"We can't become the legislative branch, we can't become the executive branch," Gearin said of the courts.

In the meantime, Dayton and legislative leaders prepared for Friday and Saturday marathon budget talks that for much of Thursday remained in doubt.

Dayton, Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, and House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, on Wednesday agreed to the Friday and Saturday budget lock-in, but after Dayton said he thought top legislative Democrats should be added to the group Koch questioned whether the talks should continue as scheduled.

By late Thursday afternoon, Koch agreed to negotiate even with House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, and Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook.

"On multiple occasions, Gov. Dayton has reneged on hand-shake agreements during negotiations and yesterday's developments were just the latest example," Koch said. "While I'm frustrated by Gov. Dayton's decision to break the terms of our meeting schedule, I will participate in the budget meetings as scheduled for Friday and Saturday."

Meetings for weeks have failed to produce any budget agreement.

Republicans say they will agree to no overall state budget for the two years beginning July 1 that spends more than $34 billion. They also refuse to consider tax increases.

Democrat Dayton wants to spend $35.8 billion, with a $1.8 billion tax increase on the best earning 2 percent of Minnesotans.

The two sides also disagree about how to spend money.

The Republican-controlled Legislature passed its budget before the Legislature adjourned May 23, but Dayton vetoed all but agriculture spending.

Once the current budget ends, most state agencies have no authority to spend money and the government would shut down.

Because of that, Attorney General Lori Swanson asked the courts to allow the governor, attorney general, secretary of state and state auditor to decide what was critical enough to continue to operate during a shutdown. Dayton told the courts he would make such spending decisions on his own and does not need court approval.

In the first hour of Thursday's hearing, Gearin rejected Dayton's request to order a mediator to help produce a budget agreement between him and the Legislature. She also turned down a request that four Republican senators become involved in the case.

Gearin said the public is interested in what happens with the budget and urged Dayton and legislators to continue their talks.

"The clock is ticking," Gearin said. "The other branches of government are still aware of their responsibility to take this out of the courts."

The judge said that Dayton and legislators have "responsibility to resolve this constitutional crisis."

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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