Commissioners turn attention to shutdown planning

Minnesota Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans says it has been “business as usual” in his department, but that is about to change as the state faces what the governor calls a likely government shutdown.

Frans said he, like other state commissioners, looked at plans drawn up in 2001 and 2005 when shutdowns loomed. Now state leaders are going beyond dusting off old reports and actually are making plans just in case there is no new budget when money runs out July 1.

“We are at the very, very beginning,” Gov. Mark Dayton said about shutdown planning.

Dayton gathered his Cabinet for a Wednesday meeting on the subject. Commissioner Jim Schowalter of Minnesota Management and Budget, the chief shutdown planner, termed the mode inside the meeting as somber.

Even with shutdown planning, Schowalter said the first priority remains trying to negotiate a deal for the next two-year budget.

Shutdown preparations are under way because Democrat Dayton and Republicans who control the Legislature have not agreed on a budget for the two years beginning July 1, other than for agriculture programs such as food inspections.

Republicans want to spend no more than $34 billion and Dayton puts his number at $35.8 billion, but there are plenty of disputes about how to spend money within those targets.

Lawmakers hit their midnight Monday adjournment deadline and went home. Dayton will call them back in session once he and legislative leaders reach a budget agreement.

Without a deal by July 1, much of state government will begin to close.

Schowalter said the shutdown planning process will reveal to Minnesotans what they may notice. Dayton said he will make sure the state understands the consequences of a shutdown.

Parks, for instance, may not be available on the July 4 holiday weekend. While the Department of Public Safety likely would continue to deal with life-and-death situations, it may not be able to handle less important matters, Schowalter said.

Dayton said he thinks Minnesotans will decide the government “makes a substantial difference in people’s lives.”

Schowalter said that parks, road construction and administrative functions likely would be affected.

Among the few on-going activities that do not depend on regular legislative approval are payments to schools and tax collections. However, Schowalter said, while those activities are required, it still must be decided if people will be on duty to fulfill those functions.

Schowalter said that each agency is looking into what would need to be done even without a budget. He said the Dayton administration would go to the courts in mid-June if no budget deal is pending and ask for permission to keep things like prisons operating.

The courts must be involved because the state Constitution forbids state spending without specific legislative appropriations.

There was a partial shutdown in 2005 when some major funding bills were not passed by July 1, but the Legislature and then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty agreed on funding for the parks in time for the holiday weekend.

When budget talks stumbled in 2001, state officials drew up shutdown plans, but the budget passed in time.

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