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Minnesota AG presses judge to break budget deadlock

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June 24, 2011

Minnesota

by David Godow

ST. PAUL, Minnesota:

In an effort to break through a budget deadlock that could see Minnesota's government close its doors next week, Attorney General Lori Swanson asked Ramsey County judge Kathleen Gearin on Thursday to assume extraordinary powers to mitigate the risk of total shutdown when the existing budget expires on July 1. Swanson claimed that the judge could take several measures, including appointing a mediator to work with Democratic Governor Mark Dayton and the Republican-controlled legislature, under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits states from depriving their citizens of "life, liberty or property without due process of law." According to Swanson, allowing the state government to totally shut down, with the attendant halt in spending on health, welfare and safety, would mean letting the government abdicate its constitutional responsibilities.

Gearin demurred on Swanson's request to appoint a mediator and a separate plea by four Republican senators to call state lawmakers into a special session, arguing she couldn't take on the budget-making powers delegated to the other branches of government. "We can't become the legislative branch, we can't become the executive branch," Gearin argued.

Without commenting directly on the attorney general's appeal to the federal constitution, Gearin said she would decide, if the two sides fail to come to an agreement, whether she has the power to order the state to spend money during a shutdown. That ruling is expected next week. She noted that if she did order the government's pursestrings opened, it would be in a limited way.

Of particular concern are the 1,200 mentally ill patients, 750 veterans, 600 sex offenders and 9,000 convicts that might have to be released or removed from state institutions in the case of a shutdown. Attorney General Swanson asked Gearin to appoint a "special master," a judge with the power to decide which critical state services could continue to be funded during a shutdown, a measure previously taken during Minnesota's last partial shutdown in 2005. Still, Gearin seemed determined that the governor and legislature should try harder to come to an agreement in the time remaining before taking any extraordinary measures.

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