Jim Dey: Partisan squabbles here are child's play by Gopher State standards

Jim Dey: Partisan squabbles here are child's play by Gopher State standards

The governor of one party and the legislature of the other party are at each other's throats.

That, surely, sounds familiar. Illinois' executive/legislative relations are a political scrum. But Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton upped the acrimony level when he had all he could stand and couldn't stand no more.

So he abolished the legislature. Yes, you read that correctly — he effectively abolished the legislature that is mandated by both the federal and state constitutions with a veto of the appropriations necessary for that body to operate.

A July column discussed Dayton's May 30 veto as well as a decision by lawmakers to challenge the governor's action in the Minnesota courts.

Trial Judge John Guthmann declared Dayton's action to be "null and void" because it represented an unconstitutional attack on the sanctity of the state constitution's mandate that state government have three separate and distinct units of government — the executive as represented by the governor, a legislature to pass laws and the judiciary to interpret the laws.

In other words, Guthmann held that Dayton couldn't use his constitutional power to veto appropriation to achieve the unconstitutional result of wiping out another branch of government. In reaching his ruling, Guthmann noted that if the governor could abolish the legislature, he also could abolish the courts — creating one-man rule in Minnesota for as long as it took for the entire state to come crashing down on the governor's head.

Angered by the decision, Dayton, a Democrat, appealed to the Democrat-controlled state Supreme Court.

Last week, the justices, not wanting to stick their noses into a political dispute, punted on the issue.

Chief Justice Lorie Gildea wrote that the "governor's exercise of his line-item veto power over the appropriation for the legislature's biennial budget was constitutional under that provision," while acknowledging that "this conclusion does not, however, end the matter."

Then, not being prepared to end the matter by issuing a definitive ruling, the court called for Dayton and his legislative foes to work out their differences.

"The other branches should resolve these doubts through the political process. Thus far, they have not done so," Gildea wrote in a Sept. 8 opinion.

If they don't, she concluded, "Minnesotans may soon be deprived of their constitutional right to three independent branches of government."

The court ordered the warring parties to "participate in good-faith efforts to resolve this through media."

But given their legitimate differences of opinions, even good-faith negotiation might not be enough to settle the issue. After all, if a governor can choose to abolish the legislature over policy differences in this case, that puts the legislature in an untenable position in future legislative negotiations.

Here's the background.

Republicans included a tax-cut package in the 2017-18 budget that Dayton did not like but did sign into law. He said he did so because Republicans included what he called a "poison pill" provision that defunded the state's revenue department if the tax provision did not become law.

That tactic is identical to Democratic Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan's handling of the rewrite of the school-funding formula overhaul. Because of Madigan's poison pill, the state was barred from distributing aid money to state schools until the evidence-based distribution model included in S.B. 1 became law.

The Minnesota Republicans' tax-cut provisions prompted Dayton to veto the legislature's appropriation.

"I will allow a special session only if you agree to remove" the tax provisions, said Dayton, describing the measures as "extremely destructive to Minnesota's future."

Dayton and legislators have agreed to temporary measures to fund the legislature while the dispute remains pending. How long that will be in place is unclear because the high court said it "must proceed cautiously and with respect" in the "area of appropriation, over which the legislature and the governor hold constitutional powers."

"A proper respect for our co-equal branches of government counsels that we intervene in their dispute only when absolutely necessary," wrote Gildea, who set a Sept. 30 deadline for the parties to report back on the progress, if any, they've made with the mediator.

State education tax credit

A couple of reader queries indicates Tuesday's column on the new state income-tax credit to finance private-school scholarships for low-income students neglected to address a key issue regarding the charitable donations that fund the program.

One reader wrote, "(The article states) 'But the rich people he condemns will lose — not make — money: $25 million provided they collectively donate $100 million.' (That) statement does not take into account the reduction in the federal and state calculation for the charitable deduction. If you take into account the reduction in federal taxes, they (the rich) just might make money on the deal."

It's ordinarily the case that charitable donations, if sufficiently large, can be used as a federal tax deduction. But that's not the case here. An Illinois House summary indicates that the legislation was specifically drafted so that "donors are unable to 'double-dip' by receiving both a state and federal tax credit for their contributions."

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or by phone at 217-351-5369.

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rsp wrote on September 14, 2017 at 10:09 am

Sometimes it's about picking the tax credits and getting into a different, lower, tax bracket.