Minnesota Shutdown: Government Shuts in Budget Fight

Minnesota stumbled into its second government shutdown in six years Thursday, with a partisan divide over taxes and spending to close a $5 billion deficit becoming only bitterer as a midnight deadline approached and negotiations foundered.

Hundreds of demonstrators held a vigil outside the Minnesota State Capitol on Thursday, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Photo: The New York Times

After weeks of intense negotiations, capped by closed-door sessions through Thursday’s waning minutes, Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican lawmakers failed to agree on an operating budget for the coming biennium.

“I deeply regret that after two days of intense negotiations we have failed to reach an agreement,” Dayton said during a 10:30 p.m. press conference in his office.

Since early this year, politicians in St. Paul have been locked in a battle over how to work out an expected a $5 billion budget deficit under a divided government.

Republicans, who took control of both chambers of the Legislature after elections last year, called for cuts and reining in spending to the $34 billion that the state expected to take in over the next two years.

But Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat who was also elected in 2010, called for collecting more in income taxes from the very highest earners to spare cuts in services to the most vulnerable residents.

“I really believe I’ve done everything I possibly could and offered everything I could possibly think of,” said Dayton addressing the state of the negotiations from his office on Thursday night. “This is a night of deep sorrow for me because I don’t want to see this shutdown occur.”

Dayton continued: “I offered a plan to raise the taxes of only those Minnesotans who make more than $1 million per year. That is less than 0.3% of the state population. Despite many hours of negotiations, the Republican caucus remains adamantly opposed to new taxes.”

The Democratic governor and state GOP lawmakers had been engaged in contentious talks to close the state’s $5 billion budget gap — much of it left behind by GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty, who declined to seek a third term in the 2010 election.

“It’s significant that this shutdown will begin on the Fourth of July weekend,” Dayton said. “On that date we celebrate our independence. It also reminds us there are causes and struggles worth fighting for.”

“I think the governor’s insistence that we pass a full budget is not going to be of much comfort to Minnesotans who are going to see delays on the highways because construction projects stop,” said Senate Republican Leader Amy Koch. “It’s not going to comfort people who can’t use our state parks, or who can’t get a driver’s license.”

“There was some extra pressure to get it open with the thought of a shut down, but our goal even before a potential shut down might occur was to have open sooner not later,” Maple Grove City Administrator Al Madsen said before the state shutdown happened.

“I have no problem at all seeing it open before a possible state shutdown as our top focus has been on meeting the transportation needs of our residents and all others that use our road system. It is good to have open tonightб” he added.

And so, on the eve of a holiday weekend, residents were likely to find the state’s parks, historical sites and the Minnesota Zoo closed, hunting and fishing licenses no longer being issued, and that state’s lottery system and racetracks unavailable.

Minnesota’s 84 major rest areas along highways were closed. Thousands of state employees were expected to be sent home without pay, and contractors were to be told to walk away from hundreds of road construction projects already underway.

“It’s a very sad day for Minnesota,” said Lawrence R. Jacobs, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota, which is not expected to close. “It’s a state that had a well-earned reputation for being well governed, where, at the end of the day, politics were done in a fair and efficient manner. And it’s now on the cusp of ungovernability. There’s a new ethic here that compromise is weakness.”

The list of state services expected to close is lengthy: all sorts of state offices including dispatchers in the twin cities who monitor traffic jams and accidents and try to keep rush hours moving along. Certain crucial services will stay open, such as state patrol work, prison operations, courts, and schools. [via The New York Times, The Huff Post, Maple Grove Patch and San Francisco Chronicle]

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