Vandals ran amok over the weekend at unattended state parks.
Afton State Park sustained the most damage from vandals over the weekend. Law enforcement scoured the park, just east of the Twin Cities along the St. Croix River, and took 12 people into custody after a burglary and vandalism spree.
MPR's Madeleine Baran reports that Sheriff Bill Hutton said a group of vandals broke into the on Sunday night and caused about $35,000 in damages to park buildings, including burning one of the cabins and partially removing the roof.
Hutton said the damage was among the worst he's seen.
"It's not common at all," he said. "I would suspect or highly suspect that this would've not occurred if the park would've been open because they would've had personnel there."
The Star Tribune reports that more of this behavior is expected as the shutdown drags on.
"This is just exactly the type of thing we're going to be seeing repeatedly as the shutdown goes forward," said Steve Morse, former lawmaker and DNR deputy commissioner who is now executive director of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership. "It shows once again how difficult it is to extricate the state from our lives, and the problems that are going to come to light once something like this happens."
The paper also notes that vandalism wasn't limited to parks near the Twin Cities.
"Someone took spray paint and added a body part to the Smokey Bear sign" at the DNR area office in Grand Marais, Konrad said.
"It's sad," he said. "[But] when you tell people that there will be no one around, they will take advantage [of the shutdown]. ... This is going to cost the taxpayers money to fix."
Most of the people who entered parks over the weekend did so with the intention to enjoy the public space just as they would any other day. The Duluth News Tribune reports that you'd be hard-pressed to find a sign of the shutdown at the pool below the falls on the Goose Berry River.
Tales of personal struggle emerge
"In day six, the reality of shutdown settles in" -- the St Cloud Times reports on the challenges facing one of the many state workers who are out of a job.
Bob Pogatchnik has spent 25 years in the workforce. Now, Minnesota's state-government shutdown puts him in an unfamiliar place: the unemployment line.
How much longer can it last?
MN Daily is reporting the shutdown could last weeks, or longer.
Larry Jacobs, a professor at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, said if the two parties can't reach a budget agreement within the week, the shutdown may stretch into August or further.
Passing the shutdown deadline may take some heat off the legislators -- to the detriment of negotiations, said David Schultz, a professor of public policy at Hamline University.
"A lot of the fear is gone now that we're actually in the shutdown," he said. "[The shutdown] doesn't, in and of itself, provide the political incentive to reach agreement."
Meanwhile former Gov. Tim Pawlenty attacked the bi-partisan efforts to reach a compromise and applauded state GOP leaders for "sticking to their guns" reports the Daily Caller.
Posted at 8:59 AM on July 6, 2011
by Catharine Richert
House Speaker Kurt Zellers was a guest on Morning Edition.
Below is Tom Scheck's take via the Capitol View blog. If you want to listen to the entire interview, it's here.
Republican legislative leaders and Governor Mark Dayton are heading into their second day of budget talks since a partial state government shutdown. The two sides met yesterday without reporting any progress. House Speaker Kurt Zellers told MPR's Morning Edition today he expects talks will narrow to health care programs this afternoon.
"I think that will be a lot of the focus today," Zellers said. "Where our health care folks have been, what they have been able to accomplish you know in the last day or two here, and seeing if maybe that number that we were apart really wasn't as far apart as we though it was."
Zellers said one area that they can find cost savings is by asking the federal government for approval to change how the federal Medicaid program is run in the state. Gov. Dayton has said there's no guarantee the federal government will approve the request.
Zellers also renewed his call for Dayton to call lawmakers back into special session, something Dayton said he's not willing to do until a full budget deal is reached.
Dayton and the GOP controlled Legislature are at odds over the best way to erase a $5 billion budget deficit. Dayton wants to raise income taxes on top earners. Republicans say they don't want to spend any more money.
Zellers repeated his stance that the GOP budget offers from last week are now off the table because Gov. Dayton rejected them. Republicans suggested an additional K12 payment shift and borrowing against future tobacco payments to bring in more revenue. Gov. Dayton said he would accept one of those options but not both because it won't fix the state's budget problems over the long-term.
Zellers said the K12 shift and the tobacco bonding is "not perfect" but said those options are better than Dayton's income tax increase.
"Rather than taxing a small businesswoman out of the state because she files her business and personal income together," Zellers said. "Raising those taxes in tough economic, when neighboring states, aren't makes Minnesota uncompetitive."
Zellers also didn't take an expansion of gambling off of the table. But he said some of the problems with gambling is that local officials in Minneapolis and Bloomington aren't interested in a casino in their cities.
"That would be one option, yes" Zellers said of expanding gambling. "I'm not opposed to that. If it's not something the governor is going to sign, I don't think we should put the taxpayers or the legislators through the exercise. If it's not something that has bipartisan support or be able to get the governor's signature."
Dayton has said he's open to an expansion gambling but questioned whether the revenues generated from a casino or a slot machines at the state's horse tracks would generate significant revenue.
Zellers also reiterated that GOP legislators are comfortable with their $34 billion budget. The key question is whether they can find a proposal that meets Dayton's demands for more revenue.
Posted at 9:27 AM on July 6, 2011
by Catharine Richert
It's Wednesday, the shutdown is six days old, and there's no budget agreement in sight.
Right now, the parties are more than one billion dollars apart. They met yesterday to continue budget talks, but didn't make progress. Dayton and GOP legislators are slated to meet again today.
This morning, House Speaker Kurt Zellers talked about revenue options with Morning Edition's Cathy Wurzer. MPR's Elizabeth Dunbar writes,
Republican House Speaker Kurt Zellers said delaying payments to school districts and raising revenue through new gambling are both options when it comes to balancing the state's budget.
Zellers, in an interview on MPR's Morning Edition, said borrowing against the state's future tobacco settlement payments is also an option. But he said Dayton rejected a plan that would have combined the school payments shift and tobacco bonds, and he isn't confident Dayton would sign a gambling bill.
While GOP lawmakers contend that the two parties are close on several revenue and policy priorities, MPR's Tom Scheck reports Dayton saying, "I'm not hopeful any more than I was before the meeting, because I think we've got the same gulf between us that we've had all along."
What we do know is that there are a number of revenue options available to Dayton and lawmakers. Settling on one or two - and potentially coming to agreement on policy changes and spending cuts - is the hard part. Here's a handy list of potential revenue raisers lawmakers in the Captiol may be mulling, and how much money each one would bring in.
Posted at 10:00 AM on July 6, 2011
by Catharine Richert
Good thing the weather is fine today, because at least two groups will be heading outside to protest the government shutdown and stalled budget negotiations.
At 9:45 a.m., local labor, environmental and community leaders will gather underneath the Lafayette Bridge in St. Paul to voice their opposition to the shutdown and their support for a "budget that will create good jobs and position Minnesota's economy to compete in the 21st century economy," according to a press release.
The line-up of speakers features Tarryl Clark, co-chair of Jobs21!, the group sponsoring the event, and candidate for the 8th district congressional seat.
Later in the day, local members of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees and the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees, the state's two largest state employee unions, will protest the Republican's budget on the steps of the Capitol.
The rally starts at 4:30 p.m., and the plan, according to a press release, is to set up an unemployed town called "Downeyville."
The press release explains that the town will be named after Rep. Keith Downey, R-Edina, who the groups say wants to cut state employee jobs and eliminate their collective bargaining rights.
Posted at 10:45 AM on July 6, 2011
by Catharine Richert
On Monday, we reported that the Alliance for a Better Minnesota, a left-leaning group, was using the shutdown to build support for Dayton's budget plan.
You can view all the billboards here, but here's one that's running near Forest Lake.
Posted at 11:32 AM on July 6, 2011
by Catharine Richert
A meeting between Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislators set for 1:30 p.m. today has been rescheduled for 2:30 p.m.
The parties intend to meet in Dayton's office.
Posted at 1:01 PM on July 6, 2011
by Catharine Richert
For Philip Schaffner and his wife, the government shutdown is affording them the opportunity to get to know the Twin Cities all over again.
Armed with the latest Chinook Book , a cache of coupons for restaurants, bars, stores and events throughout the Twin Cities, the duo have spent the last six days trying new things.
The highlight so far: their trip to Sea Life at the Mall of America.
Schaffner is a planner with the Department of Transportation. Along with roughly 22,000 state employees, he was laid off on July 1 after state lawmakers were unable to reach a budget agreement.
Schaffner is chronicling his adventures - and scoops on great deals - here.
He and his wife started prepping for the shutdown back in June. The two had wanted to take a vacation, but decided that it would be too expensive. Instead, they opted for a "staycation."
"But if we are going to stay, we said, 'let's give ourselves some sort of task or theme or else we'll end up sitting in our backyard,'" he said.
That task was to have fun using deals and discounts. He's also been taking advantage of special offers being given to laid off state employees, including half-off at Heidi's restaurant.
Despite the fun he and his wife have been having, Schaffner doesn't downplay the negative affects of the shutdown, saying that the situation is "incredibly frustrating."
Posted at 3:30 PM on July 6, 2011
by Catharine Richert
Remember the Jobs21! rally I wrote about earlier?
In addition to calling for an end to the shutdown, the group used the opportunity to ask Gov. Mark Dayton to renew his push for a bonding bill as a way to expand job growth in Minnesota.
MPR's Tom Scheck wrote about the event on the Capitol View blog.
A coalition of labor and environmental groups is calling on Governor Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders to end the six-day-old government shutdown with a budget deal that creates new jobs.
Members of the Blue Green Alliance said the mass layoff of public employees, as well as the idling of thousands of construction workers, is hurting Minnesota. Bob Struve of the American Council of Engineering Companies said the 150 companies he represents in Minnesota could lose 1,000 jobs in a prolonged shutdown.
"Construction is a seasonal business, and the damage caused by a long shutdown means that jobs, projects will be moved to 2012 and possibly even cancelled," Struve said. "The damage to our firms could be very, very significant."
As members called for an end to the shutdown, they renewed their call for Dayton and GOP legislative leaders to pass a bonding bill.
Dayton proposed a $1 billion bonding bill early in the session, but GOP leaders never supported it. Still, Harry Melander of the Minnesota State Building and Construction Trades Council said he thinks a bonding bill could be part of a final budget agreement.
"We continue to be optimistic that the Legislature will do what's right for Minnesota," Melander said. "And try to put tens of thousands of construction workers back to work and provide needed infrastructure repairs that need to happen to make Minnesota the state that it is."
Neither Dayton or GOP legislative leaders have discussed a bonding bill in the final days of budget negotiations.
Posted at 2:19 PM on July 6, 2011
by Catharine Richert
Special Master Kathleen Blatz, the retired Minnesota Supreme Court justice who was appointed by Ramsey County District Court Judge Kathleen Gearin to make recommendations on continuing services, has hearings schedule for Thursday, July 7.
You can access the entire list here.
Among the groups making their case to Blatz is PolyMet Mining, a Canadian company that's trying to open a copper mine near Babbitt. MPR's Stephanie Hemphill tells me that company is worried the shutdown could slow the completion of its environmental impact statement, a process conducted by the now-shuttered Department of Natural Resources.
Posted at 3:35 PM on July 6, 2011
by Catharine Richert
This afternoon, Gov. Mark Dayton made two new offers to end the budget impasse.
In a letter to Republican legislative leaders, Dayton said he was willing to end the shutdown as early as today by passing a "lights on" bill that would give lawmakers time to put together and pass a final budget deal.
But Republicans rejected his plan because it increases taxes, according to an Associated Press report.
According to the letter, Dayton would be willing to raise taxes temporarily on Minnesotans making more than $1 million annually for $520 million in additional revenue over the next two years, and combine that with $300 million in increased health care surcharges, $100 million in tax reforms, and an additional school payment shift worth $490 million.
Alternatively, Dayton would be willing to drop is income tax hike, and increase taxes on a pack of cigarettes by $1 for a total of $283 million in new revenue, and approve a $700 million school aid shift, among other things.
I posted this list of possible revenue options earlier, but it's worth a second look now.
In the letter, Dayton wrote that he prefers the first option because it "is by far the better solution for Minnesota."
We're working to get his letter up online, and I'll update this post when we do.
You can read Dayton's letter here.
From MPR's Laura Yuen:
Do state detectives who investigate white-collar crimes provide an essential service?
Det. Jonathan Ferris apparently thinks so. Ferris, who works on insurance-fraud cases for the Department of Commerce, is scheduled to testify Thursday for another round of hearings before a special master.
By the looks of the petition he filed today, he'll question why seven of 10 sworn officers in the Commerce Department have been laid off during the government shutdown. This is the same division who helped bring down a high-profile alleged mortgage fraud scheme last month.
We were under the assumption that all state law enforcement officers were still working through the shutdown. Ferris' petition writes that the seven fraud detectives were the only members of the Minnesota Law Enforcement Association who were let go.
Ferris argues that state troopers, Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agents, Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement agents, conservation officers, and Fugitive Task Force agents have all been able to stay on the job.
Ramsey Count y Judge Kathleen Gearin has ruled broadly that the government should continue to protect public safety. She largely approved Gov. Mark Dayton's recommendations, which did name the Commerce Department's "insurance fraud prevention activities" as a critical service.
Ferris' petition appears to have ruffled some feathers at the top of his department. Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman wrote a sternly worded letter to Special Master Kathleen Blatz, saying Ferris had "no authority to act on behalf of the Department" or the insurance-fraud division.
But the Second Judicial District makes clear who exactly Ferris is representing - and it's not Commerce. He'll testify as a member of the state's law enforcement association on behalf of the seven laid-off detectives.
He's the first to testify Thursday, at 8 a.m.