A week ago, Minnesota’s unconstitutional state government took another step on the slippery slope to chaos. Ramsey County Chief Judge John H. Guthmann authorized the state to spend $5.3 million per month to fund the Legislature until Oct. 1.
Nothing in the Minnesota Constitution allows the judiciary to appropriate tax dollars. In fact, Article XI, Section 1 reads as follows: “No
money shall be paid out of the treasury of this state except in pursuance of an appropriation by law.”
Judge Guthmann appropriated the money merely because the governor and legislative leaders made a joint request that the money be paid out while they resolve a political snit. This was not an “appropriation by law.” This was an appropriation with the same legal status as saying, “Uncle Fred lost his business at the casino, so we are going to give him some funds until he gets back on his feet.”
The tiff came about after the governor signed (read “gave the OK to” or “authorized to become law”) a tax bill, that he later found objectionable after talking to some of his supporters. Either because his staff was incompetent or he originally didn’t think the tax provisions were too onerous, the governor then claimed that the Republican-controlled Legislature had betrayed his trust. To get back at them, he vetoed all funding for the Legislature, both members and staff.
For its part, the Legislature has some money in reserve. The House piggy bank will be drained on July 27 and the Senate will be flat broke on Sept. 1.
Guthmann should have told both sides’ lawyers to forget about going to the lake for the Fourth of July; this issue is going to be decided before the reserves are exhausted.
By not doing so, he added the judiciary to the list of the branches of government taking unconstitutional actions in the past six weeks. We only have three branches — executive, legislative and judiciary — so we have now hit the trifecta of banana republicanism.
All three can defend their actions ‘til the cows come home, but all three have engaged in unconstitutional actions.
Next consider the Legislature. They put a provision in the tax bill that would have unfunded the state Revenue Department if Dayton didn’t sign the tax bill. This came about because last year, Dayton vetoed a tax relief bill because of a typo. While a certain poetic justice exists in that his staff missed an entire clause, not just one digit, the fact is that refusing to fund the state Revenue Department is unconstitutional. Article X, Section 1 begins: “The power of taxation shall never be surrendered, suspended or contracted away.”
Maybe the state’s first governor, Henry Sibley, went around St. Paul and St. Anthony Village hat in hand collecting taxes door-to-door, but ever since, the state has had an agency to collect taxes. The tax collectors expect to be paid for their services since Article I, Section 2 of the state Constitution includes this line: “There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the state otherwise than as punishment for a crime of which the party has been convicted.”
In addition, the state has a minimum wage law. The current minimum wage is $9.50 for large employers, which the state is. Zero funding means zero pay for the tax collectors.
Obviously, the bill was unconstitutional and should have been vetoed on those grounds. Had Dayton done so, the Republicans would have squawked to high heaven about how he was hoarding the state’s $1.6 billion budget surplus, that there is never enough revenue that liberals can’t find a reason to spend it, etc. But having also signed all the spending bills, the governor still would have had negotiating leverage to extract more concessions in return for the relief that the taxpayers deserved. The Republicans would have still called him out, and deservedly so, for reneging on their global deal, but by cutting legislative funding, he has now become nothing less than Dictator Dayton.
Only dictators can abolish a legislature, and by cutting the Legislature’s funding, Dayton has effectively done that. He now has $46 billion to spend over the next two years, and by the end of summer, there will be no Legislature to stop him from doing what he wants. The judiciary should be on notice.
As it was, Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea went begging to the Legislature and governor last winter for an increase in judicial funding. But Dictator Dayton has said, “Do it my way, or I’ll cut you off.”
Lest anyone forget, in the last election, voters approved an amendment to the now ignored Constitution that a state commission, not the Legislature itself, should recommend legislative pay levels. Forget that the commission determined that legislators should be paid $45,000 each. Under Dictator Dayton, the voters’ directive and that amount can still be ignored, as can the state minimum wage law.
Normally, these high crimes and misdemeanors would be impeachable offenses, but given the lawlessness of all their actions, that would be like allowing only felons to be on juries. The elites who run this state seem to have forgotten that the public expects to be governed by laws under a state Constitution approved by the citizenry.
Tom West can be reached by email at [email protected]