Minnesotans prepare for yet another government shutdown
by David Godow
ST. PAUL, Minnesota:
Minnesota continues to lurch towards a July government shutdown in the face of legislative deadlock over a $5 billion budget deficit for the 2011-2012 biennium. Democratic Governor Mark Dayton vetoed the Republican-held legislature's final attempt at a budget on May 25, castigating conservative lawmakers who he said "understand little about government and care even less." The Senate's Deputy Majority Leader, Geoff Michel (R-Edina) derided the governor's own proposal, which calls for $1.8 billion in new taxes, as a "prescription for economic recession and state budget deficits."
The legislature adjourned for the year on May 23, making further debate over a budget impossible unless the governor calls lawmakers back to St. Paul for an extraordinary session; Dayton has indicated he will not make any such move until a deal is reached.
Meanwhile, state agencies have begun preparations for a shutdown, the second they have seen in the last six years. The Department of Administration published an official notice to contractors and vendors in the State Register on May 31, noting that only funding for "critical services" would be maintained. State managers have now begun identifying which services qualify as "critical;" their recommendations will be passed to the attorney general's office and thence to a judge, who will make the final decision.
During Minnesota's 2005 government shutdown, highway rest areas, state parks, some health services and other programs were cut. About 12,000 state workers were declared critical. Emergency health and law enforcement services continued. Non-emergency work like Department of Transportation construction projects continued, as did public transit in the state's primary urban centers, Minneapolis and St. Paul. The eight day shutdown cost the state about $2.7 million.
State agencies have already begun warning state employees of potential layoffs should a budget not go through in time; 800 state troopers and prison guards have already been notified that they will lose their jobs on July 1 absent new funding. Still, many workers may be spared the axe, as a budget freeze would only affect services paid for by the state's general fund. K-12 education, for example, is paid for by an open appropriation, allowing teacher salaries and summer educational activities to continue.
It remains to be seen whether Governor Dayton will summon legislators back to St. Paul in time to avert a government shutdown. In the meantime, citizens will continue to brace for what could be an even bumpier ride than in 2005.