Shutdown 2011: June 29, 2011 Archive

Around MN: the final countdown

Posted at 7:55 AM on June 29, 2011 by Michael Olson (0 Comments)

Governor Mark Dayton and GOP legislative leaders meet again this morning in search of a budget compromise. Dayton says today "is the day we're going to have to make final breakthroughs or we won't have been successful." News coverage of the possible shutdown across the state reflects this urgency. While you need to dig a bit to find them, some people continue to be optimistic that a deal will be struck before it is too late.

"I'm optimistic," GOP Rep. King Banaian said at a town-hall meeting Tuesday night. "I'm hoping we're going to have a solution, and I really feel like it's going to happen." (Saint Cloud Times)

Campers don't seem to share Banaian's optimism. July 4th cancellations are 6 times what they were last year reports WDAY. Anglers also seem skeptical that an agreement will be reached and are snatching up fishing licences before July 1.

Unease is growing within local governments across the state as they try to make sense of where the buck stops during a shutdown.

The list of local and municipal services that would be affected by a potential state shutdown became worryingly long Tuesday night, during a discussion at the Marshall City Council's regular meeting. Everything from Local Government Aid payments to state safety inspections could be put on hold, city officials and community members said (Marshall Independent).
Seniors may not be able to get lunch at Whitney Senior Center or other St. Cloud-area sites during a potential state government shutdown, according to the agency that provides those meals (Saint Cloud Times).

"This is an economic disaster waiting to happen. We got an economy that's already stressed we don't need anymore," said Paul Wilson, chair of the Olmsted County Board of Commissioners reports (KAAL). That story goes on to report that Olmsted County may layoff 30 - 40 workers if the shutdown happens. Neighboring Mower County has already notified 40 workers that their jobs will be suspended in the event of a shutdown.

Roughly 200 MnDOT workers in Mankato and countless road projects would also be suspended.

The uncertainty around what government services will and won't be available are being perpetuated by some wedding planning blogs. Clay County Recorder Bonnie Rehder says couples can relax, "There is no state agency involved." Unless you were planning on getting married in a state park.

Joey White on the Wide White blog expresses frustration shared by many who are dismayed that Minnesota's political leaders can't reach a compromise:

I'm one of many Minnesotans from all political persuasions who's fed up with your inability to work together on anything of importance, which has boiled over into the situation at hand.

I'm frustrated that we likely won't be able to take my family members visiting from Wisconsin this weekend to the Minnesota Zoo with the family pass that's already been paid for.

I'm frustrated that thousands of would-be campers will be turned away at state park campgrounds, depriving them of enjoying Minnesota's greatest assets during the best time of the year when the the weather isn't making us wish we lived somewhere warmer.

I'm frustrated that road construction projects will be halted during the only time of the year we have to actually repair our roads.

I'm saddened by the wedding parties that are scrambling to find new venues as their dream locations are likely going to be unavailable.

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Judge orders MN to pay for core services, local aid

Posted at 10:02 AM on June 29, 2011 by Paul Tosto (2 Comments)

Ramsey County Judge Kathleen Gearin is ordering Minnesota budget officials to keep paying for "critical core functions" in a shutdown.

State payments to school districts should continue but road construction and state child care aid won't be funded, state parks would close and 23,000 state workers would be idled if the government shuts down on Friday.

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Gearin is also ordering the state to pay out local government aid owed to cities. That's a huge issue for city officials who've been worried the state would stop those crucial aid payments in a shutdown.

Cities are due payments totaling $265 million on July 20.

MPR News reporter Elizabeth Dunbar has been reading through Gearin's decision. She writes:

Gearin said state payments to school districts and local governments should continue even if DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and the Legislature don't agree on a budget by Friday. But other things like road construction and state child care assistance won't be funded during a shutdown.

She said the state must also fulfill its obligations to the federal government and continue to administer those programs, including food stamps, welfare payments and Medicaid.

Gearin said temporary funding to core services should continue until the end of July or until a budget is enacted

In her order, Gearin identified "critical core functions" that agreed with Gov. Dayton's administration on their definition. Those include:

-- Basic custodial care for residents of state correctional facilities, regional treatment centers, nursing homes, veterans home and residential academies and other similar state-operated services.

-- Maintenance of public safety and immediate public health concerns.

-- Provision of benefit payments and medical services to individuals.

-- Preservation of the essential elements of the financial system of government.

-- Necessary administration and supportive services, including but not limited to computer system maintenance, Internet security, issuance of payments.

Gearin emphasized that state payments during a shutdown should be limited "only the most critical functions of government involving the security, benefit, and protection of the people."

During a shutdown in 2005, Special Master Ed Stringer heard from dozens of petitioners who wanted their funding continued. Blatz will likely hear from even more, because in 2005 only part of the budget hadn't been enacted by the July 1 deadline. Dayton and the GOP-controlled Legislature have enacted only the budget that funds the Department of Agriculture.

Gearin's also appointed former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz as "special master" for the shutdown to hear and make recommendations to the court regarding funding issues.

Blatz, reached Wednesday by MPR News, declined an interview request until the shutdown court process concludes.

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You can read the full text below. Take a look and let us know what jumps out at you.

Executive Findings of Fact (2)

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State workers back shutdown agreement

Posted at 11:13 AM on June 29, 2011 by Paul Tosto (0 Comments)

Latest statement from state worker unions:

Minnesota's two largest public employee unions have ratified an agreement with the state that will protect all the rights of laid-off workers while saving taxpayers millions in layoff costs if state government shuts down Friday.

"This agreement protects our health insurance and it ensures that we will be able to return to work with all our benefits intact," explained Eliot Seide, director of AFSCME Council 5 and chief negotiator of the deal. "But, it also means laid-off state workers won't get severance or vacation checks during the shutdown. Once again, state employees are doing their part to fix the budget."

Key points:

* State employees will be deemed critical whenever possible vs. contract employees.

* Seniority by contract will be used as much as possible when assigning critical duties.

* Employees will not be eligible to have their vacation, comp and severance paid out due to the shutdown.

* Health, dental, and optional insurances (if you have them) will stay in effect for July, the employee's share of the premiums will be deducted out of the July pay checks. If the shutdown goes into August, employees will stay enrolled in insurance and have their share of the premiums deducted after their return to work. Employees can opt out of insurance starting August 1st if they choose to.

* Employees that submitted their intent to retire in the month of June may rescind their resignation by June 29th at 5 pm.

* All employees will be recalled to the position they were working prior to the shutdown.

* All time off work due to the shutdown will be considered "time worked" for purposes of seniority and calculations towards eligibility for insurance purposes.

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Vikings stadium deal close, Star Tribune sources say

Posted at 11:19 AM on June 29, 2011 by Paul Tosto (0 Comments)

The Star Tribune reports a new Minnesota Vikings stadium may again be in the mix.

Sources reported Wednesday that stadium negotiators had dropped the cost of the $1 billion proposed project by nearly $200 million, the Vikings had upped their contribution from $407 million and the state, Ramsey County and the team had resolved who would own and operate the stadium in suburban Arden Hills.

In addition, they said, an announcement could come later Wednesday.

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Biggest layoff in state history looms?

Posted at 11:26 AM on June 29, 2011 by Paul Tosto (0 Comments)

State worker labor unions say a shutdown will trigger layoffs of as many as 23,000 state workers, making it "the biggest layoff in Minnesota history."

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Minnesota cities 'dodged a major bullet'

Posted at 11:31 AM on June 29, 2011 by Paul Tosto (0 Comments)
Filed under: Cities

Minnesota local governments are breathing a huge sigh of relief this morning after reading a judge's order that the state of Minnesota must continue to make Local Government Aid payments even if the government shuts down on Friday.

As we reported this morning, Ramsey County Judge Kathleen Gearin ordered LGA payments made even if Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative Republicans can't reach a budget deal in the next couple days.

The state is scheduled to make $265 million in aid payments to cities on July 20. That was in jeopardy before Gearin's decision.

"There is no doubt that cities dodged a major bullet this morning that may have crippled communities," Nancy Carroll, mayor of Park Rapids and president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, said in a prepared statement.

"It is just as important that the final budget compromise does not impose yet another round of cuts to cities that will result in higher property taxes for families and businesses and make communities less competitive for retaining and growing jobs."

Said St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman: "Judge Gearin's finding confirms what we have always known: that funding for public safety--police officers and firefighters--is essential to our city and our state.

"This resolution provides a level of certainty that police, firefighters, parks and libraries in Saint Paul will remain operating in the event of a state government shutdown."

MPR News reporter Mark Steil writes:

City Administrator Todd Prafke in St. Peter says the Judge's ruling was good news. He says the southern Minnesota community is scheduled to get an LGA payment of over one million dollars in late July. Prafke says most communities are counting on the money.

"That's a substantial part of their budget and is very important to them to get those dollars," says Prafke.

Prafke says the current LGA funding formula could still change under a final budget agreement between the legislature and the governor. The city got some other good news. Many operations at the St. Peter Regional treatment center will continue under the ruling. Nicollet county has the greatest share of state government jobs of all Minnesota counties.

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Counties believe court OK on local aid includes them

Posted at 12:28 PM on June 29, 2011 by Paul Tosto (0 Comments)
Filed under: Counties

We noted earlier how Minnesota local governments are breathing easier after a judge ordered the state of Minnesota to continue Local Government Aid payments even if the government shuts down on Friday.

Judge Kathleen Gearin, though, did not specifically mention payments to counties, however. Still, Association of Minnesota Counties executive director Jeff Spartz believes the order applies to counties, too. Counties are scheduled to receive $37 million from the state on July 15.

MPR's Elizabeth Dunbar writes:

"It's an anxiety reducer," Spartz said of the ruling. "I wouldn't say it's an anxiety eliminator."

Local governments are still concerned about cuts that could be part of an agreement over resolving Minnesota's projected $5 billion budget deficit for the next two years.

In the order, Gearin repeatedly refers to federal mandates requiring the state to perform "core functions" of the government. She said those payments, such as aid to cities, should be made on schedule. Spartz said that by extension, many county functions such as the jail, public health and social services will be included.

"The order from the judge has provided a certain measure of relief," he said. "She could have gone for an extremely draconian model, but I think she went for somewhere in the middle."

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Stillwater Lift Bridge will stay open in shutdown

Posted at 12:41 PM on June 29, 2011 by Paul Tosto (3 Comments)

MPR News reporters have been reading through Judge Kathleen Gearin's order that requires "critical core functions" be funded and running in a shutdown -- and they've been following up with state agencies to find out exactly what it means.

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Reporter Dan Olson this afternoon confirmed with the Minnesota Department of Transportation that the Stillwater Lift Bridge will stay open as an essential service in a shutdown.

The bridge is a crucial St. Croix River crossing between Minnesota and Wisconsin.

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.

The agency, though, later shifted gears to argue the bridge is a core service critical to maintaining life and health safety.

Here's the background.

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Minnesota shutdown: What'll be open, what'll close

Posted at 1:06 PM on June 29, 2011 by Paul Tosto (1 Comments)
Filed under: Health

MPR News reporter Catharine Richert's been doing great work answering reader questions and digging up vital information on the consequences of a potential state government shutdown.

Here's her scorecard so far:

Generally speaking, Ramsey County Judge Kathleen Gearin agrees with Gov. Mark Dayton's petition that state correctional facilities, nursing homes, public safety, and payment of medical services are all "core functions" of government.

Here's a quick look at how the court's ruling affects individual government programs and departments, and how many employees will continue working in each area. This list is not exhaustive. You can read the entire ruling here. Dayton's initial petition is here.

Corrections: 3, 601 workers

--Operation, support and basic security of correctional facilities will continue.

--Re-entry programs and placement coordination will continue, as will educational programs.

Department of Employment and Economic Development: 696 workers

--Unemployment insurance claims will continue, as will benefit payments and collections.

--Disability Determination Services will continue.

Education Department: 6 workers

--Support for critical services will continue.

--A system to report the mistreatment of minors will remain in place.

--Payments to school districts will remain in place.

Health: 189 workers

--Vaccination distribution, drinking water supply protection and food inspection services will continue.

--Response to public health emergencies will stay in place.

--Issuance of birth and death certificates will continue.

--The WIC program, which provides food and nutrition education to low-income pregnant and postpartum women will remain in place.

Human Services: 5,165 workers

--The Minnesota Sex Offender program will continue.

--Payment and administration of programs including food stamps, welfare, Medicare, and Medicaid will continue because all get federal dollars. As a result, the court concluded that it must live up to its federal obligations.

--The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which includes child care programs, will also continue. However, other child care programs not under the TANF umbrella were not deemed critical by the court. More information about these programs can be found in this petition submitted by the Amici Coalition of Child Care Providers and Supporters.

--Pharmacy payment authorizations will continue.

Judicial Branch:

--Judge Bruce W. Christopherson ruled Tuesday that courts should stay open. Read his ruling here.

Labor and Industry: 32 workers

--Construction industry inspection services and support staff will remain in place.

--Worker compensation claims and benefit activities will continue.

Military Affairs: 150 workers

--Duluth and Minneapolis airbase security, fire fighting and operations will continue. --Training at Camp Ripley will continue. --Security for military arms and equipment statewide will remain in place.

Minnesota Management and Budget: 183 workers

--State employee insurance administration will stay in place.

--State employee payroll will continue.

--Cash management - meaning the writing and administration of money to critical services - will continue.

Minnesota Zoo: 150 workers

--Staff to keep animals healthy and the property secure will stay in place. The court added that it's also necessary to fund staff that keep animals from escaping and becoming a danger to the public.

Department of Natural Resources: 220 workers

--Conservation law enforcement, water treatment and hatchery maintenance will continue.

--Dam safety and operations will continue.

--As MPR already reported, state parks - including camp grounds - will be closed.

Pollution Control Agency: 13 workers

--Emergency response will continue.

--The maintenance of four closed landfill sites and seven superfund sites will continue.

--Air quality index monitoring will continue. MPR reported more here.

Public Safety: 1,031 workers

--The state's cops and 911 workers will not be laid off.

--Homeland Security and emergency communications will continue.

--Security of the state Capitol complex will remain in place.

Revenue Department: 43 workers

--Tax payments will be processed, but refunds will not be sent out.

Transportation: 217 workers

--Emergency highway repair will continue.

--Truck permitting and aeronautic navigation will continue.

--In her ruling, Gearin singled-out a petition from the Associated General Contractors of Minnesota that takes the position road construction is critical; in it, the MAGC specifically singled out bridge construction. Gearin agreed that construction that prevents a bridge from falling is a core government function. However, she wrote that while a "government shutdown will significantly delay completion of present projects, increase costs and put numbers of employees out of work... Those things do not justify the Court ordering the funding of non-critical core functions." Read the MnAGC's petition here.

Veterans Affairs: 980 workers

--Veterans homes will continue to operate.

--Critical assistance for veterans will continue, though claims services will be limited.

--The state veterans cemetery will remain open and operating.

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Blue Cross: 60% back cigarette tax hike for MN budget

Posted at 1:23 PM on June 29, 2011 by Paul Tosto (0 Comments)

Looking for some easy state revenue? The "Health Impact Fee" on cigarettes worked wonders in 2005.

Today, Blue Shield of Minnesota says polling conducted for it and the Raise it for Health coalition shows nearly three out of five Minnesotans back "an increase in the price of cigarettes as a way to raise revenue and help solve the state's current budget problem."

Among those who backed a tax (uh .... revenue) hike, 70 percent said they would favor increasing the price by at least $1.50 per pack of cigarettes.

After the poll was fielded, the Minnesota Department of Revenue issued its revenue projection for raising the price of tobacco, concluding that a $1.50 increase per pack would yield nearly $400 million per biennium.

Here's a link to the information.

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Dayton: Ruling good middle ground; talks resume 3 p.m.

Posted at 1:39 PM on June 29, 2011 by Paul Tosto (0 Comments)

Judge Kathleen Gearin's ruling today on what essential government services must continue if the government shuts down on Friday tracks pretty closely to what Gov. Mark Dayton had requested.

This afternoon, Dayton said:

While I am still reviewing Chief Judge Gearin's order, it appears that her order arrived at the same middle ground as my Administration, and essentially agreed with my list of critical services that must continue.

I prepared that list based on my constitutional responsibility as Governor to protect the lives and safety of the people of Minnesota. I arrived at that list with a heavy heart, knowing full well the important role that government plays in the everyday success of Minnesota's citizens and businesses.

Let me be clear: I would much prefer to find a fair and balanced budget solution, rather than a government shutdown. I am continuing to work toward a compromise needed to move forward.

MPR News reporter Tim Pugmire writes:

(Dayton) Attorney David Lillehaug said Dayton still wants to negotiate a balanced-budget compromise. Even with the court order, Lillehaug said a shutdown will be tough and people will notice.

"Anyone who says that government doesn't do anything and doesn't do it well, upon reading this order and if we do reach a shutdown on July 1, they're going to realize they're very, very wrong."

Lillehaug said he was also satisfied with Gearin's appointment of former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz as a special master, who will referee future shutdown issues. Governor Dayton had earlier asked that Blatz help mediate the budget impasse, but the judge rejected that request.

Associated Press reporter Martiga Lohn tweets that budget talks between Dayton and Republican lawmakers will resume at 3 p.m.

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Thursday p.m. could be exit time for state parks campers

Posted at 2:21 PM on June 29, 2011 by Paul Tosto (0 Comments)

20110525_outdoors_44.jpgMinnesota state parks did not make the cut today in Judge Kathleen Gearin's roster of essential government services. Without a budget deal, thousands of campers will be breaking down tents and heading home Thursday afternoon.

MPR News reporter Tom Robertson says employees at Minnesota's 66 state parks are preparing to close facilities and ask visitors to leave tomorrow afternoon if there's no budget deal and that so far this week more than 1,000 people canceled state park camping reservations for the holiday weekend and beyond.

Here's his report.
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On the eve of what's typically their busiest weekend, state park employees may do something unusual -- close up the park and go home.

They'll shut blinds and lock doors and windows to park buildings. They'll shut off water and electricity to bathrooms and campgrounds. They'll close gates at park entrances. And state park managers will tell campers and other visitors that it's time to leave.

DNR Communications Director Chris Niskanen says not all of that activity will happen at once.


"Technically we have until midnight to do all of that... So... we're going to be very accommodating to people as they pack up their stuff and prepare to leave. I mean, it's not like we're going to pull a big switch and then everyone is leaving in the dark."

Niskanen says roadways into state parks will be gated if there's a shutdown, but the parks won't be totally off limits. People will be allowed to walk or bike into the parks during daylight hours. He says conservation officers will monitor the parks and ask people to leave by sunset.

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"State trails will be open, public water accesses will be open, but they won't be maintained, and any rest room facilities or water service will be shut down... Any public land that is owned by the DNR, people can still go in and use it."

That would force about 3,000 people with holiday weekend park reservations to find other plans. Some have already been checking into private campgrounds nearby. The Breeze Campground is seven miles south of Itasca State Park. Manager Kim Christenson says her campground is full for the holiday weekend, but she's been taking lots of frantic calls.

"Oh, tons, just turning people away right and left... They're just saying 'do you have anything open?' They're even asking if we'll allow them to put them in a field, or anywhere. And I'm just saying, we can't."

Empty state parks are bad news for local communities that depend on tourism.

The DNR projects tourism in Minnesota would lose $12 million dollars for each week of a shutdown. Katie Magozzi heads the Chamber of Commerce in Park Rapids south of Itasca State Park. Magozzi says if state government shuts down on Friday, it couldn't happen at a worse time.

"Those thousands of campers that would be here over the Fourth of July weekend, which is golden for our community, will not be touring our area, will not be buying gas, groceries, buying retail... The ramifications are massive."

Some tourism and lodging industry representatives say their industries could weather a shutdown, as long as it doesn't last too long. Dan McElroy is executive vice president of the Minnesota Resort and Campground Association. McElroy says there are plenty of alternatives to camping in state parks.

Minnesota state parks would lose about a million dollars a week during a government shutdown -- mostly from camping and vehicle permit fees.

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Judge's ruling relieves senior care givers

Posted at 3:20 PM on June 29, 2011 by Paul Tosto (0 Comments)
Filed under: Health

Ramsey County Judge Kathleen Gearin's "essential services" ruling today means Minnesota seniors who depend on subsidized care will continue to get services even if state government shuts down Friday.

Gearin ruled the state must fulfill its obligations to the federal government and continue to administer federal programs, including food stamps, welfare payments and Medicaid.

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Care Providers of Minnesota and Aging Services of Minnesota, the state's two long-term care trade associations, applauded the move as a decision that averted potential disaster for thousands of seniors and those who care for them.

"We are relieved by the court's ruling...However, a shutdown will not be pain-free," Gayle Kvenvold, president and CEO of Aging Services of Minnesota, said in a prepared statement.

Patti Cullen, president and CEO of Care Providers of Minnesota, says many places that care for older adults have little or no budget reserves and so could have been devastated without state funds.

"These are frail elderly who do not have the resources to pay privately they qualified for medical assistance or medicaid because they didn't have adequate income or assets to pay for that care themselves," she said. "They passed multiple screenings to be able to a access that level of service so these aren't people who can live at home independently."

On average throughout the entire state, nursing facilities are operating on pretty thin operating margins -- no reserves and about 22 days of cash on hand throughout the whole state, she added. "That means if we don't get paid by medicaid we don't have enough money to make more than one payroll."

(MPR News reporter Jessica Mador contributed).

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GOP leaders silent so far on judge's shutdown ruling

Posted at 4:18 PM on June 29, 2011 by Paul Tosto (0 Comments)

Many affected groups have weighed in during the day on Ramsey County Judge Kathleen Gearin's "essential services" ruling laying out what stay state services should continue in a government shutdown.

Republican legislative leaders, however, have stayed quiet on the decision.

MPR News reporter Tom Scheck writes:

GOP legislative leaders have been silent on Gearin's decision.

Attorney Fritz Knaak, representing four individual GOP Senators, says his clients may challenge the constitutionality of Gearin's order. He says the state constitution forbids state spending that isn't authorized by the Legislature.

"Certainly in the next few days, if there isn't some kind of solution, I know my clients will certainly be scrutinizing this and make a decision on whether they want this issue fully reviewed."

The Minnesota Supreme Court tossed the initial petition that challenged whether a judge had the right to authorize state spending despite an appropriation. The court didn't rule on the merits of the challenge but said it was the wrong venue.

David Lillehaug, an attorney for Gov. Dayton said he was pleased Gearin appeared to adopt Dayton's recommendations, but cautioned that it won't be pretty if Gov. Dayton and GOP legislative leaders can't reach an agreement.

"Based on her order, this is going to be a tough shutdown," Lillehaug said. "Anyone who says government doesn't do anything and doesn't do it well, upon reading this order, and if we do reach a shutdown on July 1, they're going to realize they're very very wrong."

Lillehaug reacts to court order from tommy scheck on Vimeo.

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Groups: Close public access to infested lakes in shutdown

Posted at 4:31 PM on June 29, 2011 by Paul Tosto (1 Comments)
Filed under: Parks and Outdoors

Minnesotans already facing the prospect of no camping in state parks during a government shutdown may confront another obstacle to outdoor fun -- no boating on scores of Minnesota lakes.

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Six groups want Gov. Mark Dayton to close public access at every lake in Minnesota that contains an "aquatic invasive species."

That's a lot of lakes across Minnesota, including Leach Lake, Lake Mille Lacs and Lake Minnetonka.

"With the DNR's plan to close state parks, it remains essential to protect Minnesota waters from zebra mussels, Eurasian Water milfoil, quagga mussels and others as identified by the DNR's infested waters list of May 2," the groups argued in a letter today to Dayton.

"The DNR must act to prevent further spread of all aquatic invasive species during a time when watercraft inspectors are deemed non-essential."

"Imagine all the boat traffic going in and out of lakes infested with zebra mussels or Eurasian Watermilfoil during the long holiday weekend," Dick Hecock, president of Becker County Coalition of Lake Associations, said in a prepared statement.

"Tubing one day on infested waters outside of Becker County then coming to Detroit Lakes to watch the fireworks -- all without any kind of inspection or decontamination. This weekend alone has the potential to spread these invasive species like wildfire across the state."

The groups urging Dayton to close lakes are: Minnesota Waters; Minnesota Seasonal & Recreational Property Owners Association; Minnesota Coalition of Lake Associations Collaborative; Pelican River Watershed District; Minnesota Division, Izaak Walton League Association; Minnehaha Creek Watershed District .

Talks are continuing this afternoon between Dayton and Republican lawmakers to make a deal on the budget and avoid a Friday shutdown.

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Winners and losers in today's shutdown ruling

Posted at 5:08 PM on June 29, 2011 by Paul Tosto (0 Comments)

MPR News reporter Laura Yuen breaks down the winners and losers in today's court decision that defined what "essential services" will continue in a state government shutdown.

The losers range from low-income children who receive subsidized daycare to the Minnesota Zoo, which may have to close during its busiest season. Yuen writes the news is a tough blow for families, construction workers, and even horse racing fans.

Here's the story:
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Brenda Grundeen says she broke down sobbing when Ramsey County sent her a note this month saying her state childcare subsidies would stop if state government shuts down.

Today, the North St. Paul single mom learned that this is the likely scenario, after Judge Kathleen Gearin ruled that childcare payments are not essential services. Grundeen says she may have to quit her job working for a program that helps disabled kids so she can take care of her three children.

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And that will have a ripple effect.

"I'm trying to make ends meet. I've got to pay my mortgage. I'm really close to being in foreclosure," Grundeen said. "If I miss a mortgage payment, it's really going to hurt."

The spectre of a July 1 shutdown has even gotten to her oldest child.

"He's freaked out. He's 10, he has autism, and he's just stuck in this loop and rigid in his schedule," said Grundeen. "He's asking me, 'If they have all this tax money, why can't Minnesota figure out how to spend it?"

Judge Gearin acknowledged the domino effect of halted government in her ruling. She wrote that not funding child-care assistance could cause extreme hardship, force low-income parents to leave their jobs, and increase the amount of people on public assistance. But she ruled that these consequences can be avoided if the governor and Legislature strike a deal.

Gearin alternately showed empathy and sternness throughout her 19-page order, as she maintained that she wasn't the one to blame. The judge instructed the state to fund "critical core functions" during a shutdown, and said payments to cities and schools should stay on schedule.

"She could have gone for an extremely draconian model, but I think she went for somewhere in the middle," said Jeff Spartz, executive director of the Association of Minnesota Counties. Although Gearin did not specifically mention county program aid in her order, Spartz thinks the order implies the payments will be coming.

Spartz thinks many county functions -- such as the jail, public health and social services -- will be considered "core functions" that are federally mandated for the state to continue. And he says the judge's order leaves him cautiously optimistic about weathering the shutdown.

"It's an anxiety reducer. I wouldn't say it's an anxiety eliminator," said Spartz.

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Gearin's ruling did nothing to reduce the anxiety of Minnesota Zoo officials, who have warned that they will close Friday short of a budget deal or a judge's intervention. Gearin directed the zoo to continue feeding the animals and maintain reasonable staffing to ensure the animals can't escape, but not much beyond that. (web: She acknowledged that closing the zoo would result in "significant harm," given that the Fourth of July and the rest of the summer are its busiest times of the year.)

Gearin even weighed in on an upcoming meet at Canterbury Park. The judge ruled that horse racing is not a core function of government.

Construction projects across the state would also come to a halt. The Central Corridor light-rail line under construction is managed by the Metropolitan Council, which is not a state agency. But for contractors working on the line, there's still a lot of uncertainty.

Richard Copeland is CEO of Thor Construction, which is doing concrete work for the project. He says the Met Council has told contractors to keep working on the project, but he is concerned about cash flow.

"It's a business decision that we have to make," said Copeland. "They say they should be able to process. Sure, they're going to say that, because they probably believe they will be able to keep operating. But we just don't know the extent of the debacle that will take place if the government shuts down. So we're very concerned."

Minneapolis attorney Dean Thomson represents the Associated General Contractors of Minnesota and other construction-industry groups. He says a government shutdown will likely leave contractors without jobs.

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"If these projects can't continue, then a great number of people will be out of business, and the summertime is when they get to make hay, and earn money," said Thomson. "If we're in a budget crisis, it seems counterintuitive to put people out of work so they won't have any revenue, which they can pay in taxes."

Thompson says if the projects come to a standstill, he expects contractors to sue the state so they can continue to work.

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As shutdown looms, citizens rush to take care of business

Posted at 5:29 PM on June 29, 2011 by Paul Tosto (0 Comments)

Many Minnesotans are in a last-minute flurry to take care of government business ahead of a possible government shutdown Friday: renewing their driver's licenses, getting permits, even buying lottery tickets.

MPR News reporter Sasha Aslanian has the story:
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One block from the state Capitol, the eye of the state budget storm, the Driver and Vehicle Services office is packed.

Jennifer Greunzer of St. Paul was one of the people rushing to renew her driver's license Wednesday before it expires on her birthday in late July.

"I was just watching the news this morning and I thought I'd better get in and do that!" said Gruenzer.

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She had plenty of company. Katie Orth, who manages this branch, says driver's license renewals hit a record on Tuesday.

"People are worried that because of the shutdown they're not going to do it," said Orth. "We have people coming in, the driver's license is expiring in august and they're coming in early. People's tabs that are expiring in August or you know, September, we've seen those people come in too. They're just worried."

Orth has brought in extra staff to deal with the high volume. This office, along with nearly 100 others around the state, will actually stay open during a shutdown and provide limited services like tab and license renewal. It's in leased space and subcontracted out so these workers aren't state employees. But the state Department of Driver and Vehicle Services is not deemed an essential service, so it will shut down, and won't administer written or road driver's tests.

But Minnesota residents have gotten the message that the shutdown is coming. And now's the time to get business done with the state of Minnesota.

Rick Bilek of St. Paul was standing in line Wednesday to get his license plates and transfer a title, just one of the stops he was making.

"I have to go to the DNR to get my bear-hunting license cause I got picked out of the lottery for an area up north by Remer, Minnesota," said Bilek. "That's my next stop before I leave town for the holiday here!"

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And speaking of lotteries, lottery tickets won't be sold or winners paid in the event of a shutdown.

At Charlie's convenience store in downtown St. Paul, clerk Kendra Jackson says she's seeing a flurry of last-minute ticket sales.

"We usually tell everyone that the lottery will not continue if the state does shutdown, so they're like, 'Oh, well, let me get my lottery now so before the lottery shuts down I can have my lottery," said Jackson.

If there's a shutdown, and your ticket is a winner, the lottery says sign the back, keep it in a safe place and the state will pay out when it's back up and running. Multistate games like Powerball Megamillion and Hot Lotto will continue but Minnesota winners will have to wait for their payouts.

"I'm definitely not winning," said Ho Lum of St. Paul, buying a slew of lottery tickets on his lunchhour.

Lum's bad luck is likely to continue if there's a shutdown. He'll be laid off from his job with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

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"Cone of silence" leaves press corps baffled

Posted at 5:47 PM on June 29, 2011 by Jon Gordon (0 Comments)

What's going on with budget negotiations? MPR News reporter Tom Scheck is trying to figure that out amidst the "cone of silence" at the Capitol.

Talks broke off. Senate spokesman says leg leadership will meet tonight but it's not certain if GOP leaders will meet With Gov. Dayton.less than a minute ago via Echofon Favorite Retweet Reply

So GOP leaders left out a side door and we're not sure if they're meeting again tonight. #mnshutdownless than a minute ago via Echofon Favorite Retweet Reply

There is a collective "Wha Happen?" from the press corps right now. #mnshutdownless than a minute ago via Echofon Favorite Retweet Reply


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Budget talks to resume shortly

Posted at 7:40 PM on June 29, 2011 by Jon Gordon (0 Comments)

Governor Dayton and GOP leaders will begin talking again at 8pm, with just a little over one day to go before a shutdown of state government.

Capitol View has more.

Meanwhile, reporter Tom Scheck tweeted that he just heard a Dayton staffer whistling Joy to the Word, whatever that means.

Tweets Scheck: "Said staffer confirmed he was whistling "Joy to the World" and apologized. Everyone is getting slaphappy."

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Nonprofits prepare for #mnshutdown

Posted at 7:55 PM on June 29, 2011 by Jon Gordon (0 Comments)
Filed under: Courts, nonprofits

From KSTP-TV: "Many Nonprofits Brace for State Government Shutdown"

And on All Things Considered today, Tom Crann spoke with Jon Pratt, executive director of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, about how today's court ruling will affect those groups.

Ramsey County Judge Kathleen Gearin ruled Wednesday that while some of the state's nonprofit organizations provide services that vulnerable Minnesotans rely on, it's not a critical core function of the government to continue funding them in the event of a shutdown.

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Evening budget negotiations end; no talks scheduled for Thursday

Posted at 9:52 PM on June 29, 2011 by Jon Gordon (0 Comments)

Just in: Talks between Governor Dayton and GOP legislative leaders are over for the night.

From MPR News reporter Tom Scheck:

"Gov. Dayton's spokeswoman says there are no more budget meetings scheduled tonight. No meetings scheduled for tomorrow."

"All I can tell you is that we're continuing to work on it," Dayton spokeswoman Katharine Tinucci said when asked if #mnshutdown will occur.less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

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Threat of shutdown delays welfare payments

Posted at 10:22 PM on June 29, 2011 by Jon Gordon (0 Comments)

From MPR News reporter Madeleine Baran:

Thousands of low-income families had to wait an extra day to receive their monthly welfare payments this week as a government shutdown approaches.

The state's Department of Human Services delayed payments by one day for about 18,000 households who receive funds from the Minnesota Family Investment Program.

Most households receive their benefits electronically from the Department of Human Services. The department released a statement Wednesday acknowledging the delay.

"Because the state did not have an approved budget for Fiscal Year 2012, some cash benefits for Minnesota Family Investment Program clients were delayed," the statement said. "Counties were notified today that issuance did not occur."

The ruling by Judge Kathleen Gearin preserved funding for welfare programs and allowed the department to resume payments. "The department will work immediately to issue benefits to clients," the statement said.

Two weeks ago, the department sent out letters to welfare recipients explaining that benefits could end if lawmakers and the governor fail to reach a budget deal by June 30.

Other welfare recipients could encounter similar delays this week. The Department of Human Services provided a list of all delays. It states:

"Minnesota Family Investment Program clients receiving benefits issues through Electronic Benefit cards will be able to access benefits on June 30. This is a one-day delay for about half of the Minnesota Family Investment Program clients, but the normal day of issuance for the other half.

Clients receiving all other cash assistance (Minnesota Supplemental Aid, Refugee Cash Assistance and General Assistance) issued on Electronic Benefits Transfer cards will receive their benefits on the usual schedule, July 1.

Clients receiving benefits through direct deposit for any cash programs will receive them on time, July 1, or one day late, July 2; however some may not receive them until July 5, due to the holiday."

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