Minnesota argues that ex-legislator can't sue over Senate building
ST. PAUL -- Authorization for a new Senate office building fit with the general purpose of the tax bill into which it was inserted last spring, and in any case former state Rep. Jim Knoblach has no right to sue to stop construction, an attorney for the state argued Wednesday in Ramsey County District Court.
Judge Lezlie Ott Marek heard more than an hour's worth of arguments from both sides on Knoblach's suit and said afterward that she would issue a written ruling as soon as possible.
The state is pushing for dismissal and has asked for a quick ruling because construction of the $90 million office and parking project north of the Capitol is on a tight schedule. State budget officials have said they won't sell the bonds for the project until the lawsuit is resolved.
Knoblach sued in late October, saying the inclusion of provisions for a new Senate office building in the tax bill violated the state constitution, which stipulates "no law shall embrace more than one subject, which shall be expressed in its title."
The purpose of the stipulation is so citizens will know how lawmakers vote on separate items of public business, said Erick Kaardal, attorney for Knoblach. In this case, he said, it means new spending for a state building doesn't belong in a bill focused on taxation. He argues it was inserted there because legislative leaders didn't want to try to get the 60 percent supermajority required for capital bonding projects.
Kaardal called it a "prototypical case of legislative logrolling."
Knoblach is arguing the project be stopped and money be paid back. The office building provision in the tax bill authorized a $3 million appropriation in fiscal year 2014 for design work.
But the legal test is that subjects in the same law have to be connected only by a "mere filament," said John Garry with the attorney general's office. The common thread here is that the tax bill and office project both involve raising revenue for government operations, Garry said. In the case of the office building, it's through lease revenue bonds.
"This is not a complicated issue at all," Garry said.
And Knoblach as a private citizen with no special interest in the law in question should not have the right to sue, Garry said.
Knoblach took issue with that argument after the hearing, saying that if he weren't allowed to sue, "in a case like this, how could a suit be brought? It couldn't be." He said he hasn't decided how far he will push the case if Judge Marek rules against him.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.