By Karen Pierog
(Reuters) – The Minnesota Senate will furlough its workers and suspend operations as soon as Dec. 1 due to an ongoing funding dispute with Governor Mark Dayton, the chamber’s Republican leader announced on Wednesday.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said his chamber will run out of money by next month unless the state courts restore funding for the legislature that was vetoed by Dayton. He added that the Senate plans to seek certain funds from the Legislative Coordinating Committee which would keep the chamber operating through Jan. 12.
“We don’t take the suspension of operations of the Minnesota Senate lightly – this is not a game – but we really have no other choice today,” Gazelka said in a statement.
The chamber’s workforce includes dozens of lawyers, analysts, researchers and assistants who work with committees and on legislation.
The Democratic governor’s office blamed Gazelka for the impending shutdown.
“Despite sitting on nearly $45 million in available state funding for his operations, he and other legislative leaders are choosing to lay off their own employees, rather than admit that they have misled the courts, the press, and the public about their true financial situation,” said Matt Swenson, the governor’s assistant chief of staff.
Dayton in May vetoed funding for the Republican-controlled legislature from the state’s new two-year budget in an effort to pressure lawmakers to revise tax measures that he said will harm the state’s financial stability. The move touched off a legal battle with lawmakers, who claimed the elimination of nearly $130 million in funding was unconstitutional.
While a Ramsey County District Court judge sided with the legislature in July, the state Supreme Court on Sept. 8 determined that the governor’s action was constitutional. However, the high court raised concerns over the ability of the legislature to survive without funding and ordered the two sides into mediation, which ended in an impasse.
Gazelka said it was imperative for the court to step in again.
“The people of Minnesota will no longer have a voice in the legislative branch after the first of the year, not to mention the pain inflicted on our employees,” he said.
In a September court filing, the House of Representatives said it anticipated running out of money on Feb. 1.