Thursday, August 25, 2005

And you thought the shutdown was behind us

From the Star Tribune:

Dispute unfolds over governor's shutdown powers
Patricia Lopez
House Republicans, who say the courts never should have been allowed to order funding of essential state functions during the recent partial shutdown, will ask the state Supreme Court to prevent similar action in the future.

In a petition that may be filed as early as next week, House Republican leaders will contend that both the executive branch -- headed by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty -- and the judicial branch overstepped their authority in June.

That's when Pawlenty sought, and a district judge granted, the order that kept government partly afloat while legislators went into overtime to reach a budget deal.

Neither House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, nor Majority Leader Erik Paulsen, R-Eden Prairie, could be reached for comment Wednesday, but Rep. Paul Kohls, R-Victoria, said they and 10 other House Republicans back the move for a petition that would prevent a replay of what they consider a major encroachment on legislative authority.

"At its core, this is about the separation of powers," said Kohls, who said the group will do some final research before filing next week.

Without the court order, some core functions of government would have shut down on June 30, when the state ended its fiscal year. Because a new two-year budget had not been authorized by the Legislature, some parts of government, including some health services, would have had no funding after that date.

However, Kohls said, that did not give the other two branches the right to subvert the authority of the legislative branch.

"What are the constitutional limits regarding the expenditure of state funds?" he said. "We're looking at five, 10, 20 years down the line. This is an issue that needs to be resolved."

Rep. Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, who also supports the petition, said that while it may seem odd for Republican legislators to oppose an action taken by a Republican governor, their move is not about party lines.

"This doesn't have a political shade to it," he said. "It's about the precedent that was set. If a judge can decide for 201 legislators how state money is spent, why do the people of Minnesota send us down here every two years? They want us to make those decisions. That's our job. I would hope the governor's office would not take this personally. It's not directed at the governor."

Lone defendant

Indeed, Pawlenty is not named in the draft petition, only Finance Commissioner Peggy Ingison.

Erick Kaardal, the attorney representing Sviggum and the other House Republicans, said Ingison is being proposed as the sole defendant because "she's the one who signs the checks."

Even though Pawlenty sought the court order, heads the executive branch and appointed Ingison, Kaardal said that "the only person who violated the Constitution was the commissioner of finance. She cut the checks. I don't think the governor is involved."

Brian McClung, Pawlenty's press secretary, said that Ingison was "fully authorized by the court to act in the manner in which she did" and that Pawlenty supported those actions.

"In fact," he said, "Governor Pawlenty petitioned the court himself so that our commissioners could carry out their duties."

McClung said he found the proposed petition a bit bewildering, noting that House Republicans filed no objections at the time the order was sought. "We believe there was opportunity for arguments to be made then," he said. He said the administration was given no warning that such a petition was being contemplated.

"This afternoon was the first time our office, the office of the governor, was apprised of this," he said. "We understand their desire to have legislative oversight when it comes to state appropriations, but they had a chance for their issues to be heard."

McClung said that instead of planning for courses of action in the event of future shutdowns, "we would hope legislators would take all possible steps never to be in that position again. They may not like the fact that we went to court, but that seems to be the way government is set up right now."


Attorney General Mike Hatch said that he considered the shutdown "a huge black mark against the state" and that he was surprised that House Republicans wanted to reopen the issue.

Hatch was drawn into the topic when Kaardal asked him for permission to be appointed as special counsel for the group when they filed their "Writ of Quo Warranto." Hatch advised them in a letter released Wednesday that they did not need his permission but that he considered the action ill-advised and would "aggressively oppose" the writ if it were filed.

"They didn't raise any objections at the time because they didn't dare be seen as opposing funding for core functions," Hatch said of the House Republicans supporting the writ. Hatch recalled that the first request for such funding came from children on ventilators.

But Kaardal said Republicans simply wanted to take their time preparing arguments and allow the court time to consider them -- something, he contends, that couldn't have happened in the heat of the special session.

Zellers said the petition is less about what happened in June than what might happen next time.

"It's about maintaining the integrity of the legislative process," he said. "As ugly as it is at times, we should be allowed to do the job, no matter how long it takes or how contentious it is."
(Source: Star Tribune, August 2, 2005)

It was a nightmare for every politician who seeks to be reelected to run for higher office, now let’s just move on. Instead of looking back, we need to look forward to make sure this doesn't happen again.


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