June 30, 2005
Deadline day

As unbelievable as it once seemed, just one year after the Legislature was roundly criticized for doing nothing, the state is now on the verge of a partial government shutdown. The cause of the shutdown? A relatively small $466 million shortfall on a $30 billion budget. Both sides are accusing the other of forcing the shutdown for political purposes. It's hard to believe anyone involved would be dumb enough to do that, because there aren't going to be any political winners out of this situation. One can only imagine the main negotiators will make things even worse for themselves as they try to blame each other for the shutdown.

The only bright spot seems to be that state parks may survive the shutdown. MPR's Laura McCallum has the latest from last night's negotiations:

Legislative leaders emerged from the governor's residence to report good news and bad news. First, the good news.

"I would say to all the families of Minnesota, continue your plans to go to state parks," said Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, a Democrat from Willmar.

He said leaders agreed to pass an agriculture and environment bill Thursday that would keep the parks open. The bad news is that they didn't agree on two other bills that have stymied leaders for months.

"Unresolved continues to be the health and human services, and ultimately the tax bill, the raising of the revenues," he said.

The lack of a deal on those major bills means a partial government shutdown is nearly certain, according to Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum of Kenyon. Sviggum accused Democrats of trying to force a government shutdown to make Gov. Tim Pawlenty look bad.

"There was no effort from the DFL to negotiate and cooperate in the best interests of the state. There was no effort," he said.

You see, that blame thing is already underway. Yesterday DFLers were saying Gov. Pawlenty was putting too many conditions on his proposal to increase cigarette taxes. And that parks bill could still be derailed by concerns over ATV use.

And for the first time since Sunday Gov. Pawlenty talked to reporters Wednesday. As noted in the Pioneer Press he said for the first time that he might support a "lights on" bill to extend the budget deadline:

He said he would agree to a temporary "continuing resolution" to keep government operating for a few days if he and legislative leaders have the "outline of a deal" by midnight today. "That's probably the best we can hope for," he said.

Even if they aren't close to a deal, he said, he would consider a bill to keep government operating for a brief and limited time. He said he opposes keeping government operating indefinitely without a deal because it "institutionalizes gridlock."

Sensing the political hurricane that will result from the shutdown, some lawmakers are trying to come up with their own deal. The Star Tribune talks about it:

A bipartisan group of lawmakers from both chambers gathered Wednesday evening to call for their own compromise solution. They included many veteran legislators and some in their first term.

On the revenue side, they suggested a $1 per-pack tobacco charge, getting more money by tightening the corporate tax code and dipping slightly into reserves. On the spending side, they recommended middle ground on health care spending and a bare-bones transportation package.

"We want the job done. The taxpayers want the job done and we'd all like to go home,'' said Sen. Jim Metzen, DFL-South St. Paul.

About 20 legislators are behind that fix. It's unclear how they would get it done, but it seems like a good time for a revolution at the Capitol.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:35 AM