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House involved in state shutdown case, MnSCU rescinds layoffs

ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota House is poised to get involved in a government shutdown court case, mostly to protect its own operation.

On a split vote this morning, the House Rules Committee approved a resolution allowing Republican leadership to hire former state Chief Justice Eric Magnuson to represent the House in a court case that begins Thursday.

"Our interest is very narrow and limited in scope," House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, said.

Magnuson's job is to make sure the courts do nothing to prevent the House from operating, particularly in drawing up a budget if a deal is made with Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton. He also is to oppose Dayton's proposal for the court to order that a mediator get involved in the budget impasse.

The House has enough money to operate for weeks after July 1, even though most of the state budget has not been enacted. Most departments would be forced to close July 1 without a budget, so Dayton and Attorney General Lori Swanson have asked Ramsey County District Court to allow the state to spend money even though the current budget expires June 30.

This morning's committee action provided House GOP leaders authority to get Magnuson involved in the case.

Judge Kathleen Gearin plans a Thursday hearing on shutdown issues, but it is not known when a decision could be made on what the courts will allow to remain open. Dayton has presented a detailed list, and today he planned to filed a revised petition adding health-care providers to the list he thinks should get paid during a government shutdown.

The shutdown is likely because Republicans who control the Legislature and Dayton have not agreed on a budget for the two years beginning July 1. Republicans say they will spend no more than $34 billion, while Dayton wants a $35.8 billion target. Besides disagreeing on how much to spend, they also disagree on how money should be spent.

Also today, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system announced that it is rescinding more than 6,000 layoff notices it sent to its employees.

MnSCU officials said they are confident classes on their 54 campuses will continue even if much of the rest of state government shuts down.

While the system has said all along that it has enough money to operate through the fall term, it needed people in Minnesota Management and Budget to send checks and do other financial work for them. Dayton has recommended that staff be in place, but MMB officials have said a court still would need to approve the action.

"We are grateful that the education of our students will not be interrupted," Chancellor James H. McCormick said. "Minnesota Management and Budget has informed us that the needed services will be provided, and we will be able to continue system operations through the summer and fall terms."

About 67,000 students are taking summer classes at MnSCU schools and thousands more are enrolling for the fall. If campuses closed, financial aid and other work needed for the fall would end, threatening to dramatically cut enrollment.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

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.