Is It Still Possible To Avert A State Government Shutdown In Minnesota?

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June 29, 2011 2:00 a.m.

Another day and more gridlock in Minnesota.

Budget negotiations continued Tuesday to try to avert a state government shutdown, but no deal has stuck yet.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton again met with Republican leaders of the legislature, calling the talks “constructive.” But he said they still have their differences. Beyond that, details of the negations have been been intentionally vague, as lawmakers have committed not to speak publicly about the specifics of the meetings.

With a June 30 deadline to avert a shutdown, how realistic are the chances of a deal?David Schultz — a political science professor at Hamline University in St. Paul — told TPM the state is already in “shutdown mode.”

“There’s just a huge gulf here basically between Dayton and the Republicans over their view of government,” he said. “This is a major dispute over what the role of government should be.”

The gridlock has come over how to close a projected $5 billion budget deficit. Dayton’s approach combines tax increases on the wealthiest 2 percent of Minnesotans and spending cuts while the GOP’s approach focuses on spending cuts.

With lawmakers’ continued reticence, Schultz doesn’t see much hope for a deal to avert shutdown.

“I’m not getting the sense that they’re making progress,” he said. “I just don’t see at this point any real objective signs. I would think that if they really thought they were making progress, they would say something.”

In 2005, the state experienced a partial government shutdown. Schultz said this week’s looming shutdown has the potential to be more severe than the last. Minnesota’s budget consists of about 10 bills, he said. And back in 2005, a number of those elements were signed, whereas only one has been agreed upon now — on agriculture.

“The potential scope for disagreement is much broader,” he said. “The potential for shutdown is much broader.”

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson earlier this month filed a petition in the Ramsey County District Court, followed by a supplemental one from Dayton, outlining plans in the event of a state shutdown.

Schultz said he expects the court — which ultimately decides what services will be kept open — to make a decision Wednesday. But a grim reminder of the looming deadline came earlier this week when the Star Tribune reported more than 1,300 layoff notices are being protectively sent to Hennepin County employees.

The targeted workers include 127 staff members in the Taxpayer Services Department, which runs the county service centers, and about 1,200 employees in the Human Services and Public Health Department, County Administrator Richard Johnson said.

So what happens next? Schultz expects a shutdown. It would likely last until the middle of the following week, he says, at which point political pressure will be “enormous.”

Schultz — who describes himself as neither a Democrat nor Republican — says it’s hard to say who will blink first. With Republicans in the legislature facing elections sooner than Dayton, he said they might be likely to blink first.

“If they want to save themselves, they have to give. As soon as they give, they’ve alienated their base.”

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