Posted at 7:44 AM on June 27, 2011
by Michael Olson
Reporters across the state are scratching their heads trying to figure out why the "marathon" budget talks ended abruptly on Sunday after Governor Mark Dayton and legislative leaders met for just over an hour.
Don Davis in The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead writes:
It was not clear if the meeting broke up because of disagreements among the parties or if negotiations could continue Monday.
One thing both parties continue to agree on: keeping mum about the negotiations.
"The stakes for their negotiations could not be higher. Ramsey County District Judge Kathleen Gearin is expected to rule soon on what services - if any - the court can order to continue after July 1 if there isn't a legal two-year budget," reports the Star Tribune.
State Sen. Sean Nienow is among a group of Republicans urging Dayton to call a special session and let the legislature define what would remain open during a shutdown. Dayton doesn't support the so-called "lights on" approach.
Having trouble keeping tabs on the disagreements and common ground between Gov. Dayton and the legislature? Here's a document from MPR's Catherine Richert to help you out. [PDF]
"A hearing will be held this morning on whether state money should be allocated so the state's judiciary can continue running in case of a shutdown" Tom Scheck writes in the Daily Digest.
Road projects are among those that would be hardest hit by a shutdown. Mankato Free Press reports that a project there on Highway 14 would miss a critical deadline needing state action after July 8.
Blue Earth County plans to award a contract July 8 to begin moving soil for a Highway 14 interchange at County Road 12, which is being extended south.
Because the project is partially federally funded, the county cannot award the project until the state approves a requirement that 2.5 percent of the contract is given to minority-owned businesses, County Engineer Al Forsberg said.
The Grand Forks Herald ran an item from the AP that compares the shutdown in '05 to what would happen today.
-- Then. Highway rest areas closed, driver's license exams and other services halted and 9,000 state workers were locked out of their jobs. But the shutdown's reach was limited because budgets for parks, courts, prisons, colleges, farm programs and tax collectors were already in place. A judge ordered the state to continue providing services to protect health, safety and property.
-- Now. Minnesota's second shutdown would reach across state government, closing state parks to campers and day visitors as the Independence Day holiday weekend starts, stopping road projects at the height of the construction season and throwing tens of thousands of state employees out of work. It would also halt more obscure functions of government, such as licensing for teachers and other professionals and permits for businesses. Only a small sliver of the budget would be unaffected -- Dayton and lawmakers approved $76 million for farm programs back in April.
Employers continue to urge teachers and doctors to renew their licenses before July 1 so they can keep working post-shutdown.
As we wait for the next round of Minnesota budget talks today, we're seeing more tangible consequences of a potential state government shutdown -- Some nonprofits that depend on getting paid by the state are taking out loans to stay open for clients if the state government stops.
While the group won't disclose the names of those that got loans, they are organizations that provide primary care, services for crime victims and mental health services in the Twin Cities and rural Minnesota, says the fund's Kate Borman.
"These nonprofits are making plans to continue to provide some level of services in the face of the loss of state payments for the duration of a shutdown," she said. "All five organizations have also reduced expenses, cut staff hours and pay, and have considered which of their services are "essential" to their clients and community."
We have many more applications in process for about $2 million available to lend for these purposes."
The fund loans money to nonprofits in need and also provides financial advice and training to nonprofit boards in Minnesota. The group's been warning nonprofits for weeks to prepare for life in state government shutdown.
Posted at 10:32 AM on June 27, 2011
by Paul Tosto
Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders are a couple billion dollars apart in negotiations on a $30-plus billion budget package. While the tension now revolves around whether to add new taxes or revenue, a look at their plans shows the two sides really aren't that far apart on most other stuff.
MPR News reporter Catharine Richert has put together a side-by-side comparison of the Dayton and the Republican-controlled legislature's budgets, which were passed earlier this year and vetoed by Dayton.
Or click on the graphics below for a larger view. ( Note: Updated with new data 12:40 p.m.)
Comparison II: The Associated Press has a nice piece comparing the 2005 Minnesota government shutdown and what happened compared to what we're looking at in 2011. "Shutdown 2011 stands to be far more sweeping than in 2005, when only parts of state government were shuttered."
Posted at 11:06 AM on June 27, 2011
by Paul Tosto
The League of Minnesota Cities today says it's prepared to go to court to force the state to make payments to cities even if state government shuts down July 1.
Officials cited a memo Friday sent to county assessors, auditors and treasurers from the Minnesota Department of Revenue stating, "In general, local government aid payments will not be made during the time of a state government shutdown unless directed to do so by the courts."
The league argues that the aid payments are "standing or open appropriations that are not dependent on an overall budget agreement and, therefore, should be paid as required by existing law."
In a similar vein, the Minneapolis City Council will meet early this afternoon to talk over legal options against the state should a government shutdown stop local government aid payments. Minneapolis says its due to receive nearly $44 million on July 26.
Posted at 11:42 AM on June 27, 2011
by Paul Tosto
When businesses shut down temporarily or lay off workers, it typically saves money in the short term, "but state government doesn't work that way," writes MPR News reporter Elizabeth Dunbar.
She's been talking to a range of public finance experts and finds a shutdown could cost taxpayers millions in lost productivity, delays and financial penalties that are already starting to add up ahead of the July 1 deadline.
Here's part of what she found.
A shutdown could result in some initial real savings from laying off state workers. Under an agreement being voted on by the state worker unions, employees could apply for unemployment but wouldn't immediately be paid vacation or severance, which would save the state money. But state workers could seek back pay once the shutdown is over.
"There's savings because 10,000 or 5,000 or whatever number of people are not going to be paid for this number of days. That's sort of lost on the fact that you end up paying people who aren't working," said Peggy Ingison, a former state finance commissioner under former Gov. Tim Pawlenty who now oversees finances for the Minneapolis Public Schools.
Ingison, who was finance commissioner during the state's only shutdown in 2005, said a combination of paying people who aren't working and focusing so much effort on planning and preparing for a shutdown can make government look inefficient.
It'd help if any of the state cash accumulating once a shutdown starts could be invested and earn interest, but interest rates are low and there's too much uncertainty about how long a shutdown would last, Ingison said. The delayed payments could also come with penalties or could threaten the state's standing with credit agencies, adding costs, she said.
In addition, state workers have spent hundreds of hours planning for a shutdown or preparing for a court fight over which services should continue in the event of a shutdown.
Other costs likely already adding up include lost revenue from camping cancellations at state parks and extra expenses associated with delaying road construction projects.
For example, contractors were supposed to demolish the Bren Road bridge over Highway 169 in Minnetonka last weekend as part of a construction project to prepare the area for new development. The demolition was put off because MnDOT has said it will halt all construction projects if there's a shutdown.
Because road construction projects are on tight schedules and involve layers of subcontractors, more projects could start shutting down this week.
Because of those issues and others, a shutdown could have a domino effect, said John Gunyou, the city manager of Minnetonka who served as state finance commissioner under former Gov. Arne Carlson.
"It's not just the shutting down and starting up again," he said. "There are these relationships of funding for which you're dealing with multiple, multiple agencies."
Gunyou said the fact that the Bren Road/Highway 169 road project being managed and inspected by the city is a good example of something that would be affected by a shutdown for no good reason. Delays could cost the $15 million project up to $3 million more, he said.
On many projects, including the Bren Road/Highway 169 project, local and state officials are working together and splitting the costs, Gunyou said. But political maneuvering that ends in delays can hurt the state's reputation with businesses, he said.
Minnesota's government came close to shutting down in 2001 but 2005 was the only actual shutdown.
In 2001, government officials did extensive shutdown planning that didn't end up being necessary. State officials calculated that planning for a shutdown cost $2.7 million, but there was no estimate of how much a shutdown would have cost in 2001.
You might expect the 2005 shutdown would be a good source of comparison, but there were many differences, including the fact that Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the Legislature had approved several appropriations bills before the partial shutdown.
At the time, state Department of Employee Relations Commissioner Cal Ludeman estimated the shutdown cost the state at least $12 million, including $10 million in lost productivity. Ludeman, who coordinated that shutdown, told reporters then that it would take weeks to know the true cost of the shutdown, but it appears no formal analysis was done.
UPDATED: Here's a link to Dunbar's full story.
Posted at 11:36 AM on June 27, 2011
by Paul Tosto
Legislative Republicans say they'll meet with Gov. Mark Dayton again at 3 p.m. today at the Capitol.
After eight hours of discussions Saturday, budget talks between the two sides ended Sunday after only about an hour with no progress reported.
Posted at 12:30 PM on June 27, 2011
by Paul Tosto
The Stillwater Lift Bridge may stay open during a state government shutdown, state officials said this afternoon.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation says its including operation of the bridge as a "core critical function" in its planning for a possible July 1 shutdown.
Earlier this month, MnDOT said Coast Guard regulations require the bridge must be left in a raised position to allow river traffic if it is not being actively operated.
Today, though, MnDOT said: "After consulting with public safety officials and health care providers over the past several days, the agency determined that the bridge is a core service critical to maintaining life and health safety. The bridge will remain open primarily to allow ambulance traffic to continue between Minnesota and Wisconsin. "
Posted at 12:49 PM on June 27, 2011
by Paul Tosto
If state government shuts down July 1, should the court system close its doors, too? What happens then?
A judge earlier today heard the pros and cons. MPR News reporter has a story posted with audio.
Here are the basics from Scheck:
A judge is considering whether the state's judicial system should continue to be funded in the event of a government shutdown. Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson is asking the courts to continue funding for the judicial system if Gov. Dayton and the Republican controlled Legislature fail to reach a budget deal by Friday.
During a hearing in Ramsey County court today Deputy Attorney General Nate Brennaman said failing to keep the courts running would jeopardize the constitutional right to a speedy trial, endanger people's right to have lawyers and fail to make sure children are protected from abuse and violence.
"Without a functioning court system, Minnesotans constitutional rights would not be afforded. The courts are the forum and the protector of Minnesotans constitutional rights."
Governor Dayton and the Board of Public Defense support continued court funding. Four Republican Senators say the motion is unconstitutional because a court, not the Legislature, would authorize the funding.
Posted at 1:00 PM on June 27, 2011
by Paul Tosto
State lawmakers working to close a budget deal and avert a July 1 state government shutdown have taken a vow of silence to the media. But that doesn't mean they're keeping quiet.
Republican lawmakers this afternoon e-mailed state employees arguing, basically, that it's not their fault if the government shuts down.
Since the governor vetoed the Legislatures budget bills, we have made three substantive compromises. We funded K-12 education, public safety and courts at the governors requested levels; withdrew our request for tax cuts; and allocated additional resources to higher education, environment, and flood and disaster relief. All were rejected by Governor Dayton.
We also asked to be called to special session - something only the governor can do - so that we can pass bills and avoid an unfortunate, unnecessary and potentially costly shutdown. The Governor has said he will not call a special session.
We, like you, know what it is like to sit around the kitchen table, pay the bills and balance our household budget. We know that our balanced budget includes difficult decisions for state agencies. But you can be sure about one thing: Our budget keeps state agencies open on July 1 and state employees will continue getting paychecks beyond June 30.
MPR News blogger Bob Collins has the complete letter posted here, along with a letter Gov. Dayton sent to state workers last week .
Posted at 2:15 PM on June 27, 2011
by Paul Tosto
Some folks are planning a "street party" if state government shuts down on July 1.
But early responses we're getting from citizens in MPR's Public Insight Network tell us that many Minnesotans tied to state government operations will be doing more struggling than partying if a budget deal isn't done by midnight June 30.
We want to hear from state employees and others who will be affected by a shutdown. Tell us what you're hearing and seeing as you prepare for a possible shutdown.
It'll make our reporting smarter.
Posted at 3:50 PM on June 27, 2011
by Paul Tosto
Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Mark Dayton are meeting this afternoon in the latest round of talks hoping to head off a state government shutdown on Friday. Taxes and revenues remain the sticking point.
Here's an update on where things stand from MPR News reporter Tim Pugmire:
Dayton was still sounding optimistic when he arrived for the latest round of budget discussions, but he was also sticking to his agreement with GOP leaders to not talk about negotiation specifics.
Dayton: "You know we've agreed to a cone of silence because it's conducive to us working things out. I remain committed to finding a fair and balanced budget that will benefit the state of Minnesota and avoid a shutdown. We'll see if that's possible."
Republicans are still pushing for a special session to wrap up some budget bills, while the broader negotiations continue. Governor Dayton has insisted that an overall agreement come first.
Still, Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch said she thinks agreements are close on bills to fund education, public safety and transportation.
Koch: "The message remains the same. Governor, call us back. Let's work on the bills where we have very near to agreement. Get those settled, continue to work on the others. A shutdown is unnecessary and it's not acceptable."
But the root of the budget impasse remains the same. Dayton wants to increase income taxes on top earners, and Republicans oppose any tax increases. They also refuse to spend more than $34 billion over the next two years. Speaker Zellers said he sees a simple path to a budget deal.
Zellers: "A couple of weeks ago we gave up all of our tax cuts. We just ask him to give up all of his tax increases and we can get this done."
DFL leaders in the House and Senate stuck to the vow of silence on negotiation specifics. But Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk said that Zellers' Stillwater comment tells him that Republicans still aren't willing to compromise.
Bakk: "You know the governor has made a couple of moves here, one in March, another one in May. He showed some additional cuts over the weekend. And they still are hung up on a $34 billion budget. If that's the comment, they haven't moved one inch toward the governor."
Both Bakk and House Minority Leader Paul Thissen said they still think a budget agreement can be reached by Friday to avoid a shutdown. Thissen said he's ready to work.
Thissen: "I don't think it's particularly helpful for the leaders who should be here negotiating to be out holding press conferences. Our job is to actually get the job done. The Democrats are committed to making sure that's done and done in a way that protects Minnesotans."
The scope of a shutdown could soon become clearer when Ramsey County Judge Kathleen Gearin issues an anticipated court order. Gearin is expected to rule any day which state government services are essential and should continue to be funded an operated during a shutdown.
Posted at 4:24 PM on June 27, 2011
by Paul Tosto
The latest from MPR's Tom Scheck:
Gov. Dayton and GOP legislative leaders plan to meet again tomorrow to talk about the state budget. The two sides met privately for about 45 minutes today but revealed little about what was said behind closed doors.
Dayton said keeping their negotiations private helps the two sides have an open dialogue. But Dayton wouldn't predict if a government shutdown can be averted by Friday's deadline.
"Either one is possible. We will or we won't. I'm not going to lay odds on it but those are the two possibilities. We're committed to doing everything possible with these negotiations to avoid a shutdown."
Dayton characterized the meeting as "constructive."
Republican House Speaker Kurt Zellers says the two sides were focusing on key budget areas like education, health care, transportation and public safety.
"We're talking about the exact same things we have been talking about and because this is a very different legislative makeup, because there are tough economic times, these are difficult budget items to work through so it's taking us a little bit longer.
I think most Minnesotans would say 'Do it right. Get it right the first time and if it takes a little bit longer it's worth the while because these are such tough times."
Dayton and Republicans differ over the best way to balance the state's budget. Dayton wants to raise income taxes on Minnesota's top earners to help erase a $5 billion budget deficit. Republicans say the deficit can be erased entirely through spending cuts. State government will shut down on Friday if the two sides fail to reach a budget deal.
UPDATE: Here's the complete MPR News story.
About one in six Hennepin County workers is at risk of being laid off due to the budget stalemate at the Capitol, MPR News reporter Laura Yuen says.
That's roughly 1,400 workers, many concentrated in the county's department of human services and public health, which provides services from food support to restaurant inspections.
County board chairman Mike Opat says it's tough telling workers that their lives could be disrupted in the middle of summer.
More than 100 of the employees facing layoffs staff the county's licensing centers that handle drivers licenses, hunting and fishing licenses and passports. The county will likely close most or all of the seven centers, and is busy making signs that say, "Temporarily closed due to the state government shutdown."
It's unlikely that all 1,300 workers would be ultimately laid off, Opat added.
In addition, 89 layoff notices have already gone out to the county's public defender's office, which is funded by the state and county, said county spokeswoman Carolyn Marinan.
Yuen also notes that Hennepin County will vote Tuesday on whether to temporarily close most or all of its licensing service centers if state government shuts down Friday.
"The seven county centers process applications ranging from motor vehicle tabs to hunting and fishing licenses. County officials say if the state databases that process the information go dark, the service center staff won't be able to do their jobs."
Posted at 5:30 PM on June 27, 2011
by Paul Tosto
Here's a quick look at some of what we've been reporting on today on the potential for a Minnesota government shutdown.
No deals today. With four days left until a government shutdown, budget negotiators still don't have a deal. New taxes or revenues remain the sticking point and Gov. Dayton won't lay odds on whether a shutdown can be averted in time.
Email wars? Budget negotiators have taken a vow of silence to the media. But that doesn't mean they're keeping quiet. Republican lawmakers this afternoon e-mailed state employees arguing, basically, that it's not their fault if the government shuts down. The email drew a rebuke from the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees.
Lift Bridge reprieve? State transportation officials shifted their view on the St. Croix River crossing, deciding the bridge is a "core service critical to maintaining life and health safety."
Court in session? If state government shuts down Friday, should the court system close its doors, too? A judge today heard a range of arguments on the matter but didn't rule on the matter.
From MPR News reporter Dan Olson:
Metro Transit officials on Monday predicted what they call unprecedented cuts to Twin Cities bus service if an eventual state budget agreement includes a $109 million budget cut over two years.
The Republican transportation bill vetoed by DFL Gov. Mark Dayton included a $109 million proposed cut.
Transit officials described the extent of the possible bus route cuts and fare increases to a Metropolitan Council committee on Monday.
Transit officials are predicting a 25 percent reduction in hours of transit service across the system. More than 200 peak hour bus routes would be cut, and more than 500 employees would lose their jobs.
Most suburban local and many crosstown routes would be eliminated. A Metro Transit spokesman said trips would take longer and more people would end up standing.
The overall loss of rides could approach ten million a year. Officials say most of Metro Transit's direct bus service to the University of Minnesota, a relatively high ridership service, would be eliminated.
If state government shuts down July 1, transit officials have said they can continue operations at current levels using financial reserves for a few weeks.
Metro Transit is one of the country's largest transit systems. The agency supplies 90 percent of the 78 million bus trips taken annually in the Twin Cities. Ridership has been rising.
Posted at 5:20 PM on June 27, 2011
by Paul Tosto
MPR's Elizabeth Dunbar's done the reporting. She writes:
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is asking state officials if a state government shutdown would affect their ability to respond to an incident at one of the state's two nuclear power plants.
FEMA Region V Administrator Andrew Velasquez sent a letter to state Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Kris Eide last week. Velasquez said Gov. Mark Dayton's court filing detailing which government services should continue in a shutdown didn't make it clear "whether staff and resources will be maintained sufficiently" to meet the state's responsibilities in responding to an incident at the Prairie Island or Monticello nuclear plants.
FEMA asked Eide to explain the state's contingency plans for a list of areas including communications, support services, evacuation routes and accident assessment. If an incident were to occur at either plant, the state would coordinate the response. Depending on the level of danger to the public, hundreds of state employees could be involved.
Doug Neville, spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety, said Eide is reviewing Dayton's list of core services to ensure nothing was overlooked and expects to respond to FEMA by Wednesday.
Neville said officials are still in the process of checking for areas that may have been missed and developing contingency plans for a number of disaster scenarios. But he said public safety officials believe that the state personnel needed to respond to a nuclear incident were included in Dayton's initial court filing.
"As it stands right now, based on what our recommendations are, I don't anticipate [a shutdown] having an affect on our ability to respond to any emergency," Neville said.
Besides first responders, state workers with skills ranging from coordination and management to technical expertise would be needed in an incident at Prairie Island or Monticello. A response would involve multiple state agencies. For example, MnDOT workers might handle traffic control and evacuation routes and the Department of Natural Resources might send radiological survey teams out to the area surrounding the nuclear plant.
If state workers who fulfill those roles are laid off, it could be difficult to call them back to work in an emergency. An agreement being voted on by union members would give workers up to three days to show up for work after being recalled.
FEMA officials said in the letter that if federal officials determine the state plan is "no longer capable of being implemented or is no longer adequate to protect public health and safety, Dayton and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will be notified.
Neville said state officials weren't surprised to receive the letter, which he described as a formality.
"It's kind of a standard step for them to take to make sure we have everything in place," he said.
Neville acknowledged that even if the governor includes personnel needed for disaster response in his recommendations for a shutdown, the courts will ultimately decide which areas of state government will keep operating.
"The court needs to decide. That's the point of contact for not just the nuclear plants, but also other things related to disaster response," he said.
Officials at Xcel Energy, which operates the two nuclear plants, said they don't expect a shutdown would have any impact on the plants. But spokeswoman Mary Sandok said Xcel will keep monitoring developments on the potential shutdown and communicate with state and federal officials about the status of response operations.