- Associated Press - Friday, June 2, 2017

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - The Minnesota Legislature hired a private law firm Friday to challenge Gov. Mark Dayton’s veto of its funding.

A messy lawsuit between two branches of Minnesota’s government is the latest development in the fallout after a special session to wrap up a new state budget.

Dayton zeroed out the Legislature’s entire funding of more than $65 million a year through a line-item veto while signing the rest of a roughly $46 billion budget. He called on lawmakers to remove costly tax breaks and other measures he signed into law as a condition of restoring their funding in another special session.

But Republicans who control the Legislature aren’t budging. Their agreement with Minneapolis law firm Kelley, Wolter and Scott, which a committee of top House and Senate lawmakers approved Friday, calls for charging $325 per hour to take on the case.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt said that’s half the firm’s usual rate and that they’d work to negotiate a flat fee. But he and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said it was a necessary expense to defend the Legislature against what they view as an unconstitutional violation of the separation of powers.

“It’s unfortunate that we’re here, but we’ll certainly react what the governor has done … to protect what we think is important: to have people’s voices heard here at the Capitol,” Daudt said.

Daudt said it was unclear when the case would progress, or which court would handle a lawsuit. But time is ticking.

The Legislature’s funding will dry up July 1 when the new budget starts. Both Gazelka and Daudt said they could only tap budget reserves to pay lawmakers, staff and cover other expenses for a few months.

Democrats on the panel asked Republicans to reconsider an immediate lawsuit and instead meet with Dayton or call upon a mediator to help resolve the dispute. Rep. Lyndon Carlson warned that a court case could set a harmful precedent for how the Legislature’s funding is handled.

“When you go to the courts, there’s a risk on both sides. You may not get the answer that you hope for,” the Crystal Democrat said.

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