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Editorial: Minnesota constitutional question likely headed for the courtroom

After a 75-hour special session and several sleepless nights, the Minnesota Legislature wrapped up multiple bills May 26 to pass the state's $36 billion budget.

The Republican majority, the DFL minority and Gov. Mark Dayton had finally found the necessary compromises to complete the next biennium's budget and Minnesota seemed to be working again.

If Minnesotans thought it was too good to be true, they were right.

Despite Dayton signing all the budget bills approved by the Legislature in the 2017 session, the political skirmishing has escalated this week into a constitutional crisis question.

The Republican majority had included a provision in the final agreement that would have eliminated the budget for Dayton's Department of Revenue if the governor did not sign the tax budget bill. which contained the tax cuts, which are a GOP priority.

Fowl cried the governor.

Dayton claims the provision was inserted without his knowledge, while Republicans claim the provision was included in all drafts reviewed during the special session.

After reviewing all the budget bills, Dayton this week agreed to sign them.

However, the governor line-item vetoed the Legislature's own $130 million operating budget when he signed the two-year, $46 billion budget into law this week.

This means after June 30, the Legislature's reserve funding will quickly run out and there will be no funding available for any legislative activity, including legislator or staff salaries.

The governor has stated if the Legislature wants to restore its budget for the next two years, he will call another special session to do so, provided it agrees to his five demands.

• Eliminate a $14 million tax cut for cigars and cigarettes

• Cancel the estate tax breaks targeted for personal estates worth more than $2 million or business estates worth more than $5 million

• Cancel the freeze on statewide property taxes for businesses

• Remove the provision that blocks undocumented immigrants from getting driver's licenses.

• Change the teacher licensure standards the Legislature approved this session.

Fowl cried legislative leaders.

Dayton claims he has the right to line-item veto. Republican lawmakers claim the governor's move is unconstitutional.

So the political posturing continues well ahead of the 2018 mid-term elections when all state representative and the governor offices will be up for election. State senate seats are not on the ballot in 2018.

This constitutional question appears to be headed to court as there are two clauses in the Minnesota Constitution which are in conflict.

The state constitutional question is this: Does the state's separation-of-powers clause prohibit the governor from using his line-item veto to cut the Legislature's operating budget?

This is the first time a question of this kind has arisen in the state's 159-year history.

The other part of this issue is the power struggle between the Legislature's Republican leadership and the Democratic governor, who do not really seem to like each other or even want work together.

While the governor believes he is within his legal right, he is on uncertain legal ground. As recently as 2010, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled against former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty stating he had violated the separation-of-power clause in a different case where he tried to unilaterally reduce spending.

Republicans claim Dayton has simply exceeded his authority and thus violated the separation-of-powers clause.

While Dayton has no political incentive to play nice in this political struggle as he is not up for re-election, Republicans have no real incentive either. In fact, if Republicans reopened negotiations with Dayton and agreed to any concessions, it would not go over well with its GOP base.

Ultimately, this question will most likely be decided in court.

And Minnesotans will be on the hook for more legal fees and political drama.

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