The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State budget: a closer look

June 26, 2011

Minn. shutdowns of ’05, ’11: How they compare

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.

A comparison:

Political backdrop

  • 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.

Budget hole

  • 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.

Public pain

  • 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.

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State budget: a closer look