Political Divide Leads To Government Shutdown

Political differences separating Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislators when they took office at the first of this year shut down state government today.

After nearly a week of marathon negotiations, no budget deal was reached Thursday night as rhetoric escalated and negotiations slowed to a stop.

“Unlike the Republican legislators, I believe in putting Minnesotans first,” Dayton told reporters late Thursday.

Republicans pleaded with Dayton to call them back into a special legislative session so they could pass a temporary state budget.

“Let’s keep the state of Minnesota open,” Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said, standing outside of Dayton’s office. “Please don’t shut us down for tax increases.”

But Dayton said he needed to agree to an entire budget before he could agree on a temporary budget, or even sign individual spending bills.

“I have consistently said I will not agree to anything until I agree to everything,” Dayton said.

Koch said deals were possible: “We are incredibly close.”

It was not clear what will happen next, other than much of state government shutting down. Dayton said he would reach out to Republicans, but there was no indication when any further budget talks were planned.

As the hours wound toward the midnight shutdown time, hundreds of state workers, who expected soon to be without work, gathered outside the state Capitol in what they called a vigil for services that would disappear in a shutdown.

A shutdown is the only one in the country, even though most other states faced problems similar to Minnesota’s $5 billion deficit.

With little more than three hours left before a shutdown, most House and Senate Republicans walked into their chambers and took the seats they use during a session. Leaders said they did it to show they were ready to pass a temporary budget to keep government operating.

It was one of many signs that a budget deal was not possible Thursday.

Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, said that going to the legislative chambers and inviting the media in was not a stunt. Instead, he said, “we’re hoping the governor will call us to work.”

“We are here, we want to reach an agreement,” Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, said.

Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, said Dayton should call a special session.

“We found agreement on a majority of the bills,” he said.

But Dayton said Republicans refused to agree to more revenue, proposing instead to delay school payments and borrow money from a tobacco lawsuit settlment.

Since a shutdown cannot happen in an instance, Minnesotans saw signs it was coming throughout Thursday: Minnesota state parks were closing, road construction projected wrapped up, lines developed to buy lottery tickets and more than 20,000 state workers packed up their belonging to face the largest layoff in state history.

As most of the state’s 200 lawmakers were in their offices and ready to vote in what would have been a hastily called special legislative session, chief budget negotiators only met sporadically through the day.

Dayton has said time and again that he would call legislators into a special session, and only he can do that, only if he and top lawmakers reached a comprehensive budget deal. He said with an overall deal that he then could consider calling a session so legislators could pass a temporary budget, with the understand that the full budget he agreed to would receive a vote as soon as bill writing was finished.

On Thursday, Koch admitted the two sides were not to the point of a complete budget agreement. She said, however, a “framework” of a budget was close.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said that lawmakers “are here and ready to go,” and said Dayton should call them into special session.

Lawmakers from both parties who were inside negotiations said they were getting close to each other’s positions, but continued a “cone of silence” that did not allow them to discuss specifics.

Still, what legislative leaders said Thursday was the most in six days, since they and Dayton began marathon budget talks.

“We’re making progress,” House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said, refusing to give details.

But he and Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said they and Dayton still think there should be no temporary budget until the full budget deal is done.

Thissen said Minnesotans want a complete deal.

The longest-serving Minnesota Senate majority leader, watching the proceedings because the events are historic, did not expect an agreement.

“Someone has got to say ‘uncle’ at some point,” Roger Moe said, most likely after political pressure comes from a government shutdown.

While leaders walked into the governor’s office at 10 a.m., the Capitol and steps in front of the domed building filled with people demonstrating against a shutdown. Demonstrations were held off and on, much like the budget talks, until late Thursday.

The final demonstration was by state workers, who all year have criticized Republicans for not going along with Dayton’s plan to raise taxes on Minnesota’s highest earners.

The shutdown scenario comes about because Republicans and Dayton do not agree on how much to spend in the next two years, and what programs should get that money. Without a budget deal, state agencies cannot spend money.

Republicans went into the talks insisting that the budget, to begin Friday, be no larger than $34 billion. They repeatedly have rejected any tax increases like Dayton wants. Many Republicans campaigned saying a budget should be closer to $30 billion.

The latest Dayton offer before the talks was to spend $35.8 billion, with a $1.8 billion tax increase on the state’s highest earners. He originally wanted to spend $37 billion

While talks resumed Thursday, state workers and private workers with state contracts were shutting down operations.

Along interstate highways, for instance, barricades went up at weigh stations and rest areas. Road construction sites were mothballed.

More than 20,000 state workers were cleaning out their desks.

A judge on Wednesday ordered that more than a third of state employees remain at work during a shutdown to deliver what she called essential services. That means prison guards will be on duty, state troopers will travel the highways, most Minnesotans who receive state-funded health care will be served and people needed to write a state budget will remain on the job.

But programs ranging from the lottery to state parks will close if there is no budget deal.