By Pat Kessler

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Minnesota’s top elected officials begin court-ordered mediation this week in a budget dispute that is now threatening hundreds of jobs.

The state Supreme Court ruled the Governor’s veto of the legislature constitutional, but ordered mediation to settle the dispute. The House and Senate could start running out of money as early as Thanksgiving.

The Minnesota legislature is already preparing a “worst case scenario” that includes hundreds of layoffs. Without operating money, the House and Senate would be forced to shut down.

Layoffs would include not just 415 permanent, full-time House and Senate employees. They also include 201 state representatives and senators. A total of 616 people sent home, one of the largest mass Minnesota layoffs in years.

“The court doesn’t want to deal with this. It would really rather both sides reach a resolution,” said Allen Blair, senior fellow at the Dispute Resolution Institute at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul.

Blair says if the Democratic Governor and Republican Legislature don’t reach an agreement, the courts will likely step in again.

“The hammer that’s out there is that the courts may have to end up having to decide whether the impact of this veto is in fact constitutional,” he said.

Governor Dayton says he vetoed the legislature’s funding to force them back to the bargaining table and re-negotiate disputed items. His lawyers say it’s completely legal.

“The governor’s had that right for 100 years,” said Sam Hanson, the Governor’s attorney, last month. “The governor has that right now.”

House and Senate leaders say their finances are dwindling quickly. New court documents show the Senate has $6 million in reserve, and it runs out of money Dec. 1. The House has $10.6 million. It’s out of money Feb. 1, 2018.

In a statement, Republican House and Senate leaders said shutdown costs could eat up those reserves much more quickly, accelerating layoffs.

“The anticipated future expenses do not account for additional costs necessitated by a shutdown of the Legislature (e.g., employer portion of health insurance costs, accrued paid-time off for certain employees, and anticipated unemployment insurance costs). When these additional costs are included, the House and Senate carryforward funds will be exhausted much sooner than anticipated,” according to the statement.


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