By Pat Kessler

ST. PAUL (WCCO) – A government watchdog group went to court Monday to guarantee that Minnesota lawmakers get a pay hike.

The unusual legal action could force the state to pay lawmakers even if the Legislature is forced to shut down.

It’s been a week of anger and political threats since Gov. Mark Dayton defunded the Legislature, setting off a chain of events that will likely end up in court with the Legislature suing the governor.

Minnesota’s in uncharted constitutional waters after the governor vetoed all of the funding for the Legislature – a move that he told WCCO he had every legal right to do.

“I’m following the letter of the Constitution, which says I can line-item veto any appropriation,” the governor said. “It doesn’t distinguish between legislative or the courts, or the executive branch.”

The governor’s veto means all funding for the State House and Senate disappear July 1.

The House can keep itself going for about three months after that by spending down reserves. The senate can only keep the lights on for about six weeks.

But it’s possible lawmakers will not only get paid — they’ll get a raise.

A government watchdog group went to court Monday to force the state to give lawmakers a 45 percent pay hike — even though many don’t want it.

That’s after voters approved a special commission in the last election that raised the pay from $31,191 a year to $45,000 a year.

Lawmakers could get paid even if the Legislature shuts down this summer.

The Association for Government Accountability argues the voters approved the constitutional pay amendment and lawmakers cannot reject it.

“When the public passes a very simple-to-understand constitutional amendment, and right out of the gate — it’s the first year — it’s not followed, come on, who’s in charge here?” said Erick Kaardal, an attorney representing the Association for Government Accountability. “Is the government running the people, or are the people running the government?”

Last Friday, the Legislature hired high-powered Minneapolis attorney Doug Kelley to represent it in a possible lawsuit against the governor.

The question is: Does a governor have the Constitutional right to de-fund an entire branch of government?


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