Line-Item Veto Causes Minnesota Intergovernmental Standoff

Alex Stenman, staff writer

In the modern era, party polarization in government has become a serious issue not only at the national level, but at the state level as well. There is an ongoing impasse between Governor Dayton and the Minnesota state legislature. The state’s Republican Senate and House of Representatives are quarreling with the Democratic governor over the proposed state budget, which spreads $46 billion to the different state departments. The legislature has been working on settling a budget since January of this year.

The Republican legislature first submitted the finalized version of the budget on May 23. Dayton, however, disapproving of certain sections of the proposal, flexed some of his executive powers. According to Article IV Section 23 of Minnesota’s State Constitution, a governor can “veto one or more of the items while approving [a budget related bill].” This is referred to as a line-item veto. On May 30, Governor Dayton did just that: line-item vetoing the section of the budget that directed funds to the House and Senate.

In total, over the four year budget proposal, this cut nearly $130 million worth of funds that was intended for the state legislature. Dayton did this as a tactical measure in hopes of forcing the House and Senate to changing policy. In Minnesota, lawmakers can only meet and discuss at their annual sessions beginning in February and concluding in May. The only exception to this is if a special session is called by the governor. Dayton said he would consider calling a special session to restore legislative funding if state congressmen agree on several policy changes. These included removing a $14 million dollar tax break on cigarettes, removing tax breaks for people whose estates are worth over $2 million, and unfreezing the statewide property tax on businesses. The governor also requested a lift on the restrictions barring undocumented immigrants from applying for driver’s licenses.

“If they want me to sign a bill that provides their funding for the next four years, they have to pass a bill that I can accept and agree to sign,” Governor Dayton told the Star Tribune on May 31. “I refuse to allow the state’s financial security to be jeopardized by excessive tax giveaways, which do not benefit most Minnesotans.”

The Republican legislature proceeded to sue Dayton for vetoing their bill, alleging that his actions were in violation of the state constitution. While the Minnesota Supreme Court initially ruled that the Governor’s veto was constitutional, they also noted that this conclusion wasn’t definitive. On Sept. 8, the court ordered the two sides to reconcile and mediate in order to solve the budget conflicts. Less than a week passed before both sides announced that an agreement couldn’t be made.

Both parties currently await another decision from the Minnesota Supreme Court. On Nov. 17, the Supreme Court ruled that Dayton’s act was within his political power, and authorized enough funding to last until the next session begins, but the court has not yet made the decision on whether the act was constitutional.