1) THE TICK-TOCK STATE
This is, you may have heard, the last day that legislators can reach a deal and still avert a shutdown of state government tomorrow night. Most news organizations have spent the last few weeks running stories about what the effects of the shutdown will be.
"So if medical assistance shuts down, we lose our clients, and those people are without services," social worker Julia Pawlenty, a distant relative of the man who would be president, said yesterday. "They're without the therapy; they're without the chemical dependency services that they receive each day. They're kind of left in the dust."
Suffice it to say: the negotiators know that. They've known that since January when the budget process started. Just a few days into the session, a committee that handles the mental health budget was already holding a hearing into the effects of a shutdown.
We don't know what's happening in the negotiations -- who's holding out for an expansion of gambling, for example -- because both sides have imposed a "cone of silence," to prevent the dastardly media from gumming up the non-works.
GOP Rep. King Banaian, at a town-hall meeting in St. Cloud, predicted an agreement will avert the shutdown. "I'm optimistic." Banaian said. "I'm hoping we're going to have a solution, and I really feel like it's going to happen."
But Banaian acknowledged he doesn't have any inside information; legislative leaders aren't telling the lawmakers what's going on, either. He says he's going off what's being reported in the media, and there's very little being reported in the media that hints at anything but a suspension of services tomorrow night.
Things will likely move -- or not -- today when/if a court rules on what services must continue in the event of a shutdown. That's when the negotiators will have a better idea exactly how much a shutdown will hurt their constituencies.
The various letters to the editor sections of newspapers and talk-radio shows have called for "compromise," but a week or so after the beginning of all of these stories of the effects of a shutdown, we still don't have a clear picture what services people are willing to give up in a deal.
Here's your chance.
While much has been made of the size of Minnesota's budget shortfall -- it's one of the highest deficits as a percentage of the state's overall budget -- we are hardly alone. Forty-six states have reduced services as a result of budget woes, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Minnesota's projected 2012 budget shortfall of $3.8 billion is 20.3% of the state's general fund budget. Five states have it worse: California (27.2%), Nevada (37.4%), New Jersey (36%), Oregon (25.5%), and Texas (20.5%).
What are they doing about it? Here's a look:
California - Gov. Jerry Brown caved on his quest for a compromise of budget cuts and revenue increases last week. He needed four Republicans to agree. They wouldn't. A budget was approved today relies on forecasts that the economy will improve and California will reap $4 billion in additional revenue just because of it. According to the Los Angeles Times, a 23% cut in funding means "cash grants for the needy would fall, a program to help thousands of teen mothers get an education would be suspended and hundreds of millions of dollars would be siphoned from mental health programs." Universities are taking big cuts and raising tuition. Seventy state parks will close.
Nevada - The Republican governor reached a budget deal earlier this month that extends $620 million in temporary taxes that were to expire tomorrow. But 70 percent of the state's business will get a tax break. Room taxes at hotels will go toward education. Teacher tenure was eliminated as was seniority in deciding which teachers will be eliminated. Employees hired after the first of the year will not get retirement health insurance.
New Jersey - Lawmakers are expected to vote on a budget today that is $1 billion more than the governor wants. Democrats are relying on revenue estimates that are too rosy, according to the governor. The Democrats' budget would restore money for education, boost tax relief to the working poor and prevent steep cuts to Medicaid, according to the Newark Star Ledger.
The governor will veto the measure and Democrats do not have the Republican votes to override him. He has also promised to veto the millionaire's tax, an income-tax surcharge on residents making more than $1 million a year, which Democrats are pushing in a bill separate from the overall budget.
Like Minnesota, the two sides are risking a government shutdown on Friday. If New Jersey goes toes up, Minnesota won't be getting much national attention if/when it shuts down Friday morning.
Oregon - One of the major sticking points is the size of the state's public safety budget. Under the newly inked deal, the Register-Guard reports, "an $18 million hole in the state's $1.4 billion budget for prisons would be filled partly through a bill that would save money by capping the length of prison sentences for probation violationsand partly through debt savings on state bonds that were never sold, as well as some other piecemeal savings." Democrats and Republicans split the difference on their stances on the bill.
"It's a compromise," said Rep. Dennis Richardson, a Central Point Republican and the GOP's point man on the budget. "Neither side was going to let the other leave with exactly what they wanted. ... This allows us all to go home. It's time."
The budget raises some court fees to fund the judiciary budget.
Earlier the state cut funding to the state's seven public universities by 17 percent -- a 5 percent decrease from the governor's recommend budget.
Texas - A bill passed last night cutting $4 billion in state aid for Texas school districts, according to the Houston Chronicle. Republicans say the school cuts and others in a state budget that slashed $15 billion were necessary to avoid raising taxes. Supporters argue that school districts are bloated in administrative salaries and costs and could spend some of that money in the classroom.
The state did not raise taxes and did not touch $10 billion in reserve funds.
It appears that a bill that would have required local law enforcement to allow officers to ask anyone they detain about their citizenship status would fail. The lawmakers did pass a bill making it a crime for TSA agents to "grope" airline passengers, however.(1 Comments)
Reader Corrie Patrick has just sent this photo from a trip today to St. Paul's wonderful Como Conservatory, where the "corpse flower" is in bloom. And by, "in bloom," we mean it stinks to high heaven... like death, they say.
"It did not disappoint," Corrie says, as if you could be disappointed by the reeking smell of death from a plant whose Latin name means misshapen penis.
The bloom only lasts 1-2 days (it started opening yesterday afternoon) and the smell is much shorter. "By closing time tonight, there is the possibility that the smell will have disappeared and the spathe will have started to close up and again cover the base of the spadix," the Conservatory's website says.
It's staying open late tonight for the occasion ( 9 pm).
It is named "BOB, too," but not for the reason you might think. It was obtained from Gustavus Adolphus College's chemistry professor Dr. Brian O'Brien. It is 18 years old and has never bloomed before.
(h/t: Corrie Patrick)
Now that flood season is starting to wane, we're not likely to see any more reporters in hip waders standing in or near water, but we have a new entrant in live-report props.
Check out the protective eyeware worn by a CNBC reporter in Greece today, which presumably keeps any of the rocks and bottles being thrown in the street from hitting her several stories above on her hotel-room balcony.
There's a good reason, however, for the glasses. Tear gas from the street below.
"I'm less affected by the tear gas. Just my eyes bother me. But that is why I'm wearing them," she said. "Everybody on the ground has them for sure. It wafts up, when there's a lot of it, it seeps into the hotel rooms and causes you to throw up and is extremely painful. You can feel it go all the way down your esophagus."
Everybody on the ground doesn't have them. Communist party deputy Liana Kanelli could've used a pair today. Someone unloaded some yogurt on her during the protests.
The protests have continued sporadically since the passage of a plan to cut spending and raise taxes by $40 billion over five years.
It had to happen sooner or later but a lot of the voices who made NPR famous are retiring. Carl Kassell retired a few years ago. Liane Hansen called it quits in the spring, and today is Ann Taylor's last day.
She lives in Manhattan and says she got tired of commuting to Washington to deliver the newscasts.(4 Comments)
There's been a fair amount of chortling over plans for high-speed rail in the country, and in these parts there's been plenty of hand-wringing over a St. Paul-to-Chicago leg. Should it go through Red Wing or down through Rochester?
We didn't have these nagging problems when we dreamed bigger dreams.
The Infrastructurist notes today that there was once a plan for train service from St. Paul to London...
The most striking line from this system -- which is really saying something for a system that includes a track to the North Pole -- is a double-tracked bridge that extends across the Atlantic Ocean and runs, via an incredibly straight course, into London. Behold the St. Paul & London Intercontinental Doubletrack Railway:
(h/t: Boing Boing)(4 Comments)
Losing a job and a paycheck for who-knows-how-long is certainly the toughest part about being a state employee-victim of a crisis not of your making. But finding out you're not an essential cog in the wheel of Minnesota can't be a lot of fun, either.
The Department of Human Services this afternoon let their "non-essential" employees know they're non-essential employees by telling them that if they were essential, they'd know by now.
As you know, Governor Dayton filed a petition with the court identifying critical activities that should be continued in the event of a shutdown beginning July 1. All agency operations would be discontinued except for those determined by the court to be critical activities. In the context of a possible shutdown, "critical activities" are generally those that must remain uninterrupted or conditions that would create a potential immediate threat to public health and/or safety.
We view all positions to be vitally important to the work we do and we value the work you do as a DHS employee. However, I can let you know at this time notices have been delivered to staff who are serving in critical positions. If you did not receive a notice and if a shutdown is not averted, you are not to report to work or perform any agency work on or after July 1, 2011 for the duration of the shutdown, unless you are otherwise notified that you are to return to work.
We will provide more information as it becomes available. Please keep informed through your local news resources and visit Be Ready MN (https://www.bereadymn.com/) daily for updates. Answers to questions will be posted as they become available. In addition the Employee Emergency Information Line (651-431-3023; Relay Service 1-800-627-3529) will be updated regularly.
We truly appreciate your patience and cooperation during this difficult time and look forward to this situation being resolved soon.