ST. PAUL —
Minnesota state government will shut down Friday if no budget agreement is reached, with padlocked state parks, public employees furloughed, services suspended for the vulnerable and myriad other unexpected hassles for the public.
If it happens, it will be the state’s second government shutdown in six years. Shutdown 2011 stands to be far more sweeping than in 2005, when only parts of state government were shuttered.
- Then. The political impasse pitted Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and a GOP-controlled House against a Democratic-led Senate. The basic dispute was over spending on government-funded health care, schools and local government aid and how to pay for it.
- Now. Gov. Mark Dayton, the state’s first Democratic governor in 20 years, faces a Legislature entirely controlled by Republicans for the first time in nearly four decades. Dayton was elected after he promised to tax the rich, while Republicans overturned Democratic legislative rule by promising to hold down spending and oppose new taxes. The fresh political configuration means negotiators on all sides are new to the process.
- Then. At $466 million, the projected deficit wasn’t huge in terms of a $30 billion two-year budget. Negotiators had narrowed the gap to less than $200 million by the time the shutdown began.
- Now. The $5 billion projected deficit is massive compared to 2005. Republicans want to hold state spending to $34 billion, the amount of revenue anticipated over the next two years. Dayton insists on almost $2 billion more, mainly from raising income taxes on top earners.
- Then. Highway rest areas closed, driver’s license exams and other services halted and 9,000 state workers were locked out of their jobs. But the shutdown’s reach was limited because budgets for parks, courts, prisons, colleges, farm programs and tax collectors were already in place. A judge ordered the state to continue providing services to protect health, safety and property.
- Now. Minnesota’s second shutdown would reach across state government, closing state parks to campers and day visitors as the Independence Day holiday weekend starts, stopping road projects at the height of the construction season and throwing tens of thousands of state employees out of work. It would also halt more obscure functions of government, such as licensing for teachers and other professionals and permits for businesses. Only a small sliver of the budget would be unaffected — Dayton and lawmakers approved $76 million for farm programs back in April.
- Then. Retired state Supreme Court Justice Edward Stringer was appointed special master to determine which services continued during the shutdown, a legal move supported both by Pawlenty and Attorney General Mike Hatch, a Democrat and Pawlenty rival. Some private groups and nonprofits dependent on the state kept their funding by persuading Stringer that their services were essential to life and safety. Others weren’t so lucky.
- Now. Dayton and Attorney General Lori Swanson, both Democrats, disagree on the legal parameters of the shutdown. Swanson is taking the 2005 approach by asking Ramsey County Chief Judge Kathleen Gearin to appoint a referee to rule on critical services that should continue. Dayton’s lawyer argues that the governor should decide which state operations would go on during a shutdown. Gearin’s decision is expected this week.
- Then. The shutdown lasted eight days before Pawlenty and lawmakers agreed to a 75-cent fee on packs of cigarettes to end it.
- Now. Some groups are bracing for a shutdown that could stretch weeks or months, given the size of the deficit and the depth of the political divide.
- Then. Pawlenty narrowly won a second term, beating Hatch, even though he upset fiscal conservatives by agreeing to the cigarette charge, which he took pains to say wasn’t a tax. Republicans lost control of the House in the same 2006 election, when Democrats won a big majority in that chamber and kept their hold on the Senate.
- Now. The political calendar gives Dayton an advantage — he doesn’t face voters until 2014, while the entire Legislature is on the ballot next year. Both sides insist the public is with them. Those statements will be put to the test if the state shuts down.