Chatter: Does New Mexico Ruling Give Hint To Minnesota Legislative Lawsuit?

Minnesota courts only need to look at New Mexico if judges want to avoid taking sides in a legislative lawsuit against the governor.

In the southwestern state, the high court’s five justices said that time remained for lawmakers and the governor to  work out differences, sidestepping the issue. New Mexico leaders worked out a compromise before legislative funding ran out, so the constitutional crisis was averted (although other cases are pending in the legislative-governor dispute).

In Minnesota, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed the Legislature’s budget because he did not like some of the provisions Republicans put in a dozen major bills. He signed the bills, but vetoed legislative funding. He said he would call lawmakers back into a special session to approve their funding if they would reverse their decision on five mostly tax-related matters.

The GOP-controlled Legislature took Dayton to court, saying he cannot take away all the Legislature’s money. The first hearing is Monday. 

On Friday, Dayton and legislative leaders announced they will ask the judge to continue funding the Legislature for 90 days, but the court case continues.

Reporter Steve Terrell of the Santa Fe-based New Mexican newspaper said the Minnesota matter seems like déjà vu.

“Where could he have gotten such a wild idea? Terrell wondered. “In case anyone has forgotten, New Mexico’s governor in April vetoed the budgets of the entire legislative branch of this state because she didn’t like the revenue plan the Legislature had given her. The state Legislative Council, dominated by Democrats, sued our Republican governor, claiming the vetoes violated the separation of powers between branches of government and rendered the Legislature unable to carry out its constitutional duties.”

Minnesota legislative employees are worried. They have been told that short of some deal with Dayton, they will be out of work later this summer (the Senate runs out of money before the House). Legislators will stop being paid. No one will man lawmakers’ telephones to help constituents navigate the state bureaucracy. If the stalemate last until February, the 2018 session may need to be called off for lack of money.

While no one predicts resolution is impossible, credit rating companies are keeping an eye on the state. If the issue goes on too long, Minnesota will pay higher interest when it borrows money for construction projects.

“The governor’s veto could have far-reaching consequences for projects across the state of Minnesota,” Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said. “Communities planning to receive funding from the 2017 bond sale may have to wait, which could jeopardize their plans to complete projects. Worse, if our credit rating is downgraded and interest rates go up, it means taxpayers ultimately pay more for every single one of these projects.”

Urdahl is chairman of the House committee that draws up public works projects funded by the state selling bonds.

Like in New Mexico, the Legislature is involved in more than one lawsuit. A group known as the Association for Government Accountability sued the House because its leaders do not plan give lawmakers pay raises approved by an independent panel voters established last November.

Governor toss up

A well-known political organization says the Minnesota governor’s office is up for grabs in 2018.

Cook Report’s Jennifer Duffy reports that “Minnesota remains more purple than blue. Both parties are hosting crowded primaries and the outcome of both those contests will determine how competitive this contest becomes in the general election, but after eight years of a Democratic governor, voters might be ready for a change.”

Seizures up

Minnesota law enforcement agencies seized more property last year than in 2015,

State Auditor Rebecca Otto reports 7,048 items were seized, up from 6,722 the previous year. Nearly 60 percent of the seizures were vehicles, followed by cash and guns. The value of the goods topped $7 million.

State law allows law enforcement agencies to seize property associated with specific crimes. Drug crimes were the most common associated with seizures, followed by drunken driving.

Farmer tax aid

Tax breaks for farmers who buy equipment to replace worn-out machinery are proposed by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

The Minnesota Democrat offers a bill to set five years as depreciation time for farm equipment, down from the current seven years.

“In Minnesota, our prosperity depends on supporting and strengthening farms and rural communities,” Klobuchar said. “Making the tax code more consistent with how farmers finance new equipment will allow them to write-off equipment costs sooner and put money back in their pockets. In turn, they will be better able to create jobs and boost our economy.”

Federal tax law allows a break if farmers wait to buy new equipment until after the depreciation period ends. If the period is shorter, it may encourage farmers to buy equipment sooner.