Friday, July 1, 2011

Minnesota government begins historic shutdown

Minn. government shuts down as budget talks fail


ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota's state government is closed for business
It shut down at 12:01 a.m. CDT Friday, the victim of an ongoing dispute over taxes and spending between Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative majorities. Talks fell apart well before the deadline, leaving state parks closed on the brink of the Fourth of July weekend, putting road projects at a standstill and forcing thousands of state worker layoffs.
Even before the final failure, officials padlocked highway rest areas and state parks, herding campers out. The full impact will hit Friday morning as thousands of laid-off state employees stay home until further notice and a wide array of services are suspended.
Critical functions such as state troopers, prison guards, the courts and disaster responses will continue. On Friday morning, former Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz will begin the court-appointed job of sifting through appeals from groups arguing in favor of continued government funding for particular programs.
Dayton addressed the looming shutdown at about 10 p.m. Thursday, emerging after a day of fitful negotiations with legislative Republicans to say the two sides were still fundamentally divided over how much the state should spend the next two years and that the shutdown was inevitable.
"This is a night of deep sorrow for me," Dayton said.
Republican lawmakers had been gathered at the Capitol for hours as they demanded that Dayton do what he had said for months he would not do: Call a special session so they could pass a "lights on" budget bill to keep government running. The governor insisted he would only agree to a total budget solution that incorporated the many facets of state spending.
"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 Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo. "It's not going to comfort people who can't use our state parks, or who can't get a driver's license."
Officials in state parks had already started herding out campers Thursday, saying it would have been too difficult in the dead of night. Also Thursday, people rushed to get driver's and fishing licenses at offices and service centers that would be locked up by morning.
A stoppage in Minnesota will halt non-emergency road construction, shut the state zoo and Capitol, and stop child-care assistance for the poor. More than 40 state boards and agencies expect to go dark.
The shutdown in retrospect was something of a slow-motion disaster, with a new Democratic governor and new Republican legislative majorities at odds for months over how to eliminate a $5 billion state budget deficit. Dayton has been determined to raise taxes on high-earners to close the deficit, while Republicans insisted that it be closed only by cuts to state spending.
Even after the shutdown looked like a certainty, Dayton and Republicans did not soften their conflicting principles. Dayton said he campaigned and was elected on a promise not to make spending cuts to a level he called "draconian." He said he has been more flexible than Republicans in trying to compromise in order to acknowledge their principles.

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