No mediator to help with budget talks


There will be no mediator to help resolve the budget impasse between Gov. Mark Dayton and the Republican leadership. Ramsey County District Court Chief Judge Kathleen R. Gearin ruled against the governor’s request for a mediator to help the parties reach agreement on a budget package to avoid a government shutdown by July 1.

Representing the Minnesota House of Representatives in the matter is former Supreme Court Justice Eric J. Magnuson, who argued the House position that the court does not have the power to order mediation.

He said that court-ordered mediation, in essence, puts the court in the middle of the budget discussion, and it goes directly to the separation of powers. He stressed the role of the Legislature to set the budget with the governor, while the courts can only rule on statutes. “It is flat wrong for the court to intervene in the legislative process,” he argued.

Gearin denied the motion to appoint a mediator based on a 1930 Minnesota Case that spoke to the duties of each of the three branches of government.

“The budget should be an exercise in discretion, and it is their (the Legislature and the Governor) responsibility to resolve,” she said. The House is among dozens submitting petitions to the court regarding a possible government shutdown. Besides the mediation issue, the House is also asking that, in the event of a shutdown, it be allowed to expend its carry-over money.

In the petition, Magnuson argued, “The statute provides that carryover funds are credited to special accounts and may be used, among other purposes, ‘to pay expenses associated with session, interim activities, public hearings or other public outreach efforts and related activities.’”

The decision to enter the case, which could decide which agencies and organizations will see funding in case of a government shutdown, came last week during a meeting of the House Rules and Legislative Administration Committee to hire Magnuson to represent its interests.

During today’s opening comments, Gearin emphasized the importance of the day’s hearing and that the speed of events and the volume of paperwork have “heads spinning.”

She said the case is important because it goes to the constitution and the separation of powers.

Pointing to previous court cases regarding shutdown scenarios, she said “this is unique. It is far more sweeping and far more of a crisis,” she said. This raises issues of separation of powers that are at the core of government.”

While courts are reluctant to delve into the separation issues, she said “The clock is ticking.”

The hearing continues this afternoon