The Minnesota House of Representatives' Health and Human Services Committee today assessed the impact of a shutdown of state government. That's either good planning, a threat, or a combination of the two. Subtle, it's not.
"If there's ever a person in favor of coming to a resolution, it's me," Committee Chair Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, assured the committee. He said the discussion is similar to knowing what's in a fire insurance policy.
Judy Plante, of the Minnesota Department of Management and Budget, described what happened in 2001, when Republicans and Democrats butted heads with Independence Party governor Jesse Ventura.
"Without an appropriation, there is no authorization to spend anything," she said. "The decisions were to focus on those things that are critical: Life, health, safety and personal custodian functions of state government that must be preserved during a shutdown."
She said the cost just of preparing for a shutdown in 2001 was $2.7 million, even though the government did not shut down. She said an actual government shutdown in 2005 probably cost more.
"An unknown amount of impact on construction projects where things had to ramp down, and then back up. We also had the loss public revenue in places like the zoo and state parks and other seasonal activities," she said.
Should the government shut down again, she indicated, the cost goes up after 10 days. "If it exceeds 10 days, the layoff language kicks in. When an employee is laid off, they're eligible for layoff pay, so we now have a huge burden to pay," she said.
"I understand wanting to understand the mechanics of a shutdown, but I think doing it in a public hearing is sending a message to Minnesotans at least that's confusing," Rep. Erin Murphy, DFL St-Paul, said. "I had a nice conversation with Rep. Abrams and shared with him my commitment to get our work done, and protect seniors and the disabled and the safety net. I think Minnesotans are counting on us. I think doing this in public is sending a confusing message."
"We're facing a challenge the likes of which we've never seen," Abeler responded. "I want people to know what the stakes are so maybe we don't want to go there. We're going to discuss what kind of services should a disabled person should receive, what makes sense to give them and what doesn't , how much long-term care a person should get, should a person be in a nursing home, how many hospital beds do we need. This topic is going to look easy by comparison So don't be surprised."
"I think it's legitimate to question. It's prudent," Rep. Steve Gottwalt, R-St. Cloud, said. "This is a finance committee and we're here to talk about financial impacts. My hope is that this doesn't signal a tone of partisanship. Calling into question why we're asking this... I don't think it signals any kind of defeatism."
I guess I should just start planning my July vacation now, avoiding state parks and long drives across the state, of course. Wisconsin here I come!
When I worked for the State House of Representatives, Health and Human Services was sometimes referred to as "Hell and Human Sacrifices". I hope that name doesn't come true.