June 28, 2005
Shutdown coming

I said several weeks ago here that the deadline for a new state budget was July 1. Now it looks very likely that legislative leaders will push past that and shut down the government. Things got a little silly at the Capitol yesterday before negotiations started. The governor's office encouraged TV stations to photograph the state plane sitting empty on an airport runway to dramatize how DFL leaders were ignoring his call to meet at Camp Ripley. Never mind that the invitation was a stunt to begin with. When negotiations finally did get underway at the governor's residence (where they should have been from the start) not much happened. Here's what MPR's Tom Scheck wrote:

They exchanged budget offers well into the night, but said they're still at least $800 million apart on an overall budget deal.

Sen. Johnson says his latest proposal would no longer link an income tax increase for the state's wealthiest citizens to pay for increases in health care and education. Instead, he said the income tax hike would be used to pay for middle class tax cuts.

"We believe this is a very serious offer. It's a serious move toward the governor and the House. We are more than hopeful that the governor and the house will accept this proposal," he said.

Gov. Pawlenty and Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum were cool to the idea. They say any measure that increases income taxes is off the table since it would harm job creation. Sviggum supports a measure that would allow a state sponsored casino at Canterbury Park. Pawlenty has proposed cuts to state subsidized insurance and a 75 cent per pack cigarette tax increase to pay for funding increases for education.

Meanwhile the Senate is working on a plan to keep more of the government operating past July 1, as noted in the Pioneer Press:

The Senate Rules Committee on Monday sent a bill to the floor that would take care of some state agencies, including keeping state parks open. The measure would fund agriculture, natural resources and economic development at current levels for the next two years.

House and Senate negotiators were close to reaching consensus for funding the three departments, said Sen. Dallas Sams, DFL-Staples. If they were to complete the agreement Monday night, Johnson said, the full Senate would act on it today.

An aide to Sviggum said the speaker is open to passing such a bill if it does not spend more money than the House has already approved.

But Pawlenty has hinted he might veto a finance bill for those departments unless it overhauls the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources, a 20-member panel of state legislators that doles out Minnesota State Lottery money to conservation, environmental and recreation projects.

So as non-profits, schools, health care providers, parks and state employees wonder how much they will be able to do after July 1 it's hard to see an overall agreement by Friday. We'll hear more from state employees today and see what happens to that "lights on" bill.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:29 AM