For more than 20 years, Jim Lundy could count on the stability of a government job. But that changed July 1 when Minnesota’s government shutdown after lawmaker’s couldn’t agree on how to close the state’s $5 billion projected budget deficit.Lundy works for the Minnesota Department of Health. He’s a hydrogeologist, concentrating on groundwater. He works on ways to best use private ground wells, making sure people have clean water to drink. Out of about 50 employees, Lundy estimates that five or six in his program are still on the job during the state’s shutdown, during which only “core” government functions are funded. About 22,000 state employees are out of work.
Lundy’s sister and her husband have faced layoffs. They’re having a hard time right now, Lundy said, like a lot of people are. But his own layoff puts things in perspective.
“I thought I understood it,” he said. “But I think I understand it better now. This is not exactly the same as what they face, but it’s getting there. I can sympathize better with people having a hard time.”
Lundy spent the first part of the shutdown visiting his parents in Illinois. And coupled with the Fourth of July holiday, he said the shutdown hadn’t really hit home yet. But Lundy’s wife is also a state employee, meaning they have no income right now.
“I don’t know if it’ll be kind of nice or hard,” he said. “It’s very uncertain.” One reassurance Lundy has is knowing that, at some point, he will be called back to work. “It’s not a layoff like some people, who don’t know when they will work next,” he said.
They’re getting work done around the house, and spending time in the garden. But, of course, he wishes the shutdown hadn’t happened at all. “All we want to do is do our work. We want to work for Minnesota,” he said.
Lundy expressed his frustration with lawmakers, whose inability to compromise on a budget he says unfairly punishes state workers. “I just wish they would figure it out,” he said. He spoke of statesmanship, which he says means lawmakers should talk about a workable way forward that best serves everyone.
“That’s just not happening,” he said. “They want the results, but they don’t want to put anything into getting there. It’s not very responsible. In a way, I’m afraid this approach gets down the path of breaking the contract between our representatives and the people.”
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton is looking to balance the state’s budget by combining spending cuts with a tax hike on Minnesotans earning $1 million a year or more. Republicans reject any call for raising taxes.
No one wants to cut all government programs, Lundy said, and no one wants to invest our entire wealth in government. “We should be able to agree on something,” he said.
Lundy and his family will be okay, he said. But he just hopes the shutdown will be short enough that it won’t be a huge hit on their savings.
“I’m not worried about my life,” he said. “I’m not worried about how I’m going to feed my kids. We did plan on savings to cover something unexpected. Well here it is.”
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Read TPM’s full coverage of the Minnesota shutdown here.