MANKATO — A Republican Legislature unbending in its opposition to higher income taxes and a Democratic governor equally adverse to solving a massive budget shortfall solely through spending cuts led to the longest state government shutdown in American history.
While vital services continued, thanks to court orders, the three-week shutdown led to mothballed construction projects, disruption for people seeking state licenses, closed state parks, the lay off of 22,000 state workers and a widespread disdain for politicians.
For many Minnesotans, it was hard to understand why months of negotiations between Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican leaders of the House and Senate couldn’t lead to a settlement. As people waited in lines in the final days of June to get state licenses, they provided a consistent answer when asked to assess the performance of their elected leaders.
“You don’t want to know,” said Scott Schumacher, a Janesville resident who rushed to buy a fishing license before the shutdown started July 1. “It’s so stupid, really, that they can’t compromise on something.”
While frustrating for residents, the deadlock wasn’t a shock. As far back as the early morning of Nov. 3, 2010, it was clear an immense battle was looming for the 2011 legislative session.
The 2010 general election campaign had been mainly about the billions of dollars in red ink facing the state in the two-year budget that would take effect the following July 1. Republican candidates for the House and Senate were unified in their message to voters: Raising taxes would harm the economy, so the state must limit its spending to the revenue that current tax rates will generate.
Republican candidates won in a landslide, taking control of the House and the Senate for the first time in nearly 40 years.
Meanwhile, Democratic nominee for governor Mark Dayton ran on an unwavering call for a huge tax increase on the state’s wealthiest residents. Dayton’s message: Without new tax revenue, devastating cuts would be required for colleges, property tax relief programs, health care assistance and community-based support for the elderly and disabled.