Shutdown 2011: July 12, 2011 Archive

Minnesota OSHA responding only to "high gravity" issues

Posted at 6:38 AM on July 12, 2011 by Jon Gordon (0 Comments)

From MPR News reporter Annie Baxter:

During the state government shutdown, the Minnesota office of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is operating with a skeleton crew.

The office is only responding to situations workplace fatalities, imminent danger, serious injury and "high gravity" complaints, according to spokesman James Honerman

"If someone said, 'There's a bad smell in this office. I have a headache,' we'd have to review the situation and see whether we had anyone here, versus 'I'm being forced to work on a roof without fall protection.' That could slide over to an imminent danger situation," he said.

Minnesota OSHA is also not doing any workplace safety consultations. The office gets many phone calls each day seeking guidance on safety and health issues.

Minnesota OSHA by the numbers:

-Normal staffing of OSHA Compliance inspectors: 57
-Current staffing during shutdown: 5
-Normal inspections conducted by MNOSHA Compliance: 220 a month

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Unions ready safety net for laid off state workers

Posted at 9:36 AM on July 12, 2011 by Paul Tosto (0 Comments)

MPR News reporter Tom Scheck posted late last night on efforts by two of the the state's public employee unions to aid the 22,000 state workers laid off because of the state government shutdown.

He writes: "AFSCME Council 5 has established food shelves across the state to help laid off state workers during the shutdown. Eliot Seide, with AFSCME Council 5, says his union is establishing food drives so laid off workers have options after their last partial paycheck on Friday."

Read the full post here.

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Updates from Dayton's budget tour in St. Cloud

Posted at 11:02 AM on July 12, 2011 by Paul Tosto (0 Comments)

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MPR News reporter Tom Scheck is covering Gov. Dayton's first stop today in St. Cloud as part of a driving tour this week taking his budget message around Minnesota. Not much so far in the way of policy. But here are important bits.

-- GOP Sen. Dave Brown says he'd agree to new revenue but only if the state pays back past obligations to schools.

Asked about the kind of revenue he'd support, Brown says the state tax code has loopholes now that allow high income earners to avoid some taxes. He says he's with the governor on closing those loopholes (he wasn't specific on which ones).

-- There are several Republican lawmakers at the event, including Brown and Rep. Steve Gottwalt.

-- Gottwalt suggests a "lock-in" in St. Cloud with Dayton and GOP leaders until a budget is hammered out. Dayton says he'd be OK with that as long as the Republican "counter proposal" is completed and provided to him first.

-- The meeting is open to the public.

We'll pass on more from Scheck as we get it.

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Dayton expected to speak to reporters shortly

Posted at 11:19 AM on July 12, 2011 by Paul Tosto (0 Comments)

Gov. Mark Dayton's public discussion in St. Cloud on the budget is over. He's expected to make some remarks soon to the press.

The Uptake is offering a live feed.

Watch live streaming video from theuptake2 at livestream.com

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Dayton awaits GOP counter offer as sides exchange barbs

Posted at 12:00 PM on July 12, 2011 by Paul Tosto (0 Comments)

Gov. Mark Dayton said again he wants to negotiate a deal with Republicans to break the budget impasse and end a state government shutdown now in its second week. He said he expected to see a counter offer from Republicans soon but didn't talk publicly today about what new budget ideas he'd consider.

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Dayton met with the public Tuesday morning in St. Cloud as part of a greater Minnesota tour talking budget issues. This morning was focused largely on K-12 budget issues.
Dayton heard from local school officials concerned especially about funding for special needs children.

Afterward, he spoke briefly to reporters, saying he wanted to get the budget resolved and would be willing to leave St. Paul and come to St. Cloud with Republicans to try and do a deal.

He said he' was told a GOP counter offer on the budget is nearly completed and he was waiting to see it.

Earlier in the day, Dayton and Republicans exchanged barbs over the St. Cloud meeting. Republicans claimed Dayton refused to let GOP leaders drive with him to St. Cloud. Dayton's office said, "As usual, the Republican press operation is not telling the entire story."

MPR News reporter Tim Pugmire writes:

GOP Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch said she called Dayton this morning to suggest that she and House Speaker Kurt Zellers participate in the event as well as others the governor has scheduled this week. She also suggested riding in the same car. The request didn't fly, but Koch said she thought it could have been productive.

"I thought, well, we have to keep talking, and this would be a way to engage the public. The governor is going out across the state, and it would be a way to sort of present both sides to the public. And then, I thought if we rode together, nothing more Minnesotan in the summer than a road trip. We could continue budget negotiations in the car."

Dayton's press secretary said the governor told Koch that he would prefer the GOP leaders spend their time working on a counter-proposal to the budget offers he has made. Dayton also said he would be available to meet with Republican leaders when he returned from St. Cloud.

"I don't think this is about a PR war," Dayton told reporters after the St. Cloud meeting. "It's about what's right for the people of Minnesota."

At the meeting, GOP Sen. Dave Brown said he'd agree to new revenue (one of the things Dayton has insisted on and a key stumbling block between him and the GOP) but only if the state pays back past obligations to schools. Brown said he supports the governor's desire to raise revenue by closing tax loopholes for high income earners.

But GOP Rep. Steve Gottwalt warned that the state budget was already growing too fast.

"Two years from now we will be back with a deeper budget deficit, looking for more tax revenue," he told reporters following the St. Cloud meeting. "If we do not make promises we can keep... we are making promises we can't keep with money we don't have," adding, "Minnesota's economy is not going off like a rocket ship right now."

St. Cloud GOP Rep. King Banaian added: "We do not need additional revenues in the budget. You don't have any way of knowing what the governor wants to spend this money on ... I can't decide whether to spend additional money if I'm not told where the additional money is going to go."

Dayton is expected to talk about the budget Wednesday in public meetings in southern Minnesota.

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Minnesotans vent shutdown frustration online

Posted at 2:21 PM on July 12, 2011 by Catharine Richert (1 Comments)

Thumbnail image for CallUsBackToWork1.JPGInstead of taking it to the streets, Minnesotans are taking their frustration over the government shutdown to Facebook.

The social networking site is peppered with pages about the state's budget impasse - some in support of Republican legislators and some in support of Gov. Mark Dayton.

In most cases, it's difficult to tell who's behind these pages. Here's a handful that have gained some attention online:

I support Gov. Mark Dayton has 10,389 fans who clearly support Dayton's plan to increase income taxes. Its info page states, "We want Minnesota's wealthiest to at least pay their fair share of taxes: the same effective tax rate as the rest of us. Anything less is immoral."

On the other side of the debate is Call Us Back to Work. This page states that "Governor Dayton's shut down of state government is devastating to Minnesota and it is completely unnecessary." On the "Basic Information" page, it lists links to the House and Senate GOP facebook pages.

No Minnesota Government Shutdown has 772 fans, and appears to be non-partisan. It's motto: "No matter your politics, plain and simple a Minnesota government shutdown is a bad idea."

Recall MN Governor Dayton has 26 fans, and says, "A MN Government shutdown is not a solution - let's recall Dayton now!" Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for ISupportGovDayton.jpg

Tell The Government of Minnesota That This Shutdown is NOT acceptable has 219 fans, and appears to have been started by an individual who, on June 29, wrote, "We need to stage peaceful rallys to let these people see exactly who is going to be effect by this. I propose that if this goes through, we all go down to our local courthouses at noon on July 1st and let them hear our voices loud and clear!"

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Clergy call for new revenue plan to end shutdown

Posted at 12:50 PM on July 12, 2011 by Paul Tosto (5 Comments)

From MPR News reporter Tim Pugmire:

Leaders of several religious faiths gathered outside the State Capitol today to call for an end to the government shutdown and to endorse a budget solution that includes new tax revenue.

Members of the clergy group ISAIAH said state leaders must ask those who have done well to make small financial sacrifices. The Reverend Grant Stevenson, president of ISAIAH, said Minnesota is a wealthy state, but that wealth is not shared equally. Stevenson said Gov. Mark Dayton's proposal to raise income taxes on top earners is a good start toward equity.

"The poverty that we're facing, or the deficit that we're facing is a moral deficit. It's a deficit of clarity on our we brothers and sisters? Are we in this together or are we creating a place where we're really kind of in it for ourselves."

Stevenson said ISAIAH will continue pushing the equity issue, even beyond the government shutdown. About 200 clergy members have signed a letter to state leaders in support of new revenue.

UPDATE: Here's video from The Uptake:

Watch live streaming video from theuptake2 at livestream.com

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FAQ: Latest answers to shutdown questions

Posted at 1:21 PM on July 12, 2011 by Paul Tosto (2 Comments)

MPR News reporter Catharine Richert continues to do great work answering reader questions about the shutdown.

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She's updated the FAQ page today and you should check it out. It answers a lot of the practical questions we've been getting. I've included a few of them below.

Got a question about the shutdown you haven't yet seen answered? Post it below or shoot me an email directly: ptosto@mpr.org

Q: Why is the state going through a government shutdown?

A: Gov. Mark Dayton and the Republican-controlled Legislature are at odds over $1.8 billion in state spending for the upcoming two-year budget cycle. The governor has proposed raising taxes on the wealthiest Minnesotans to support more spending in the coming biennium, but Republicans have rejected Dayton's plan. The Legislature passed a $34 billion budget with no tax increases, but Dayton vetoed it.

The Minnesota Constitution requires appropriations before the state can spend any money, and so far, only funding for the Department of Agriculture has been signed into law.

For services to continue at all other agencies and departments, Dayton and the Republican-controlled Legislature needed come up with a spending agreement by midnight on June 30, the start of the new fiscal year, but they didn't. On July 1, roughly 22,000 state employees were laid off.

Q: Which government services are continuing during the shutdown?

A: For the most part, Gearin agreed with Dayton's definition of government's "critical core functions." Broadly, they are:

• Basic custodial care for residents of state correctional facilities, regional treatment centers, nursing homes, veterans homes 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.

Q: How did the government decide which services to continue?

A: First, agencies compiled and submitted a list of what they considered critical services to Minnesota Management and Budget, which then made recommendations to the administration.

Dayton subsequently submitted a petition to the Ramsey County District Court, as did Attorney General Lori Swanson, who petitioned for a broader array of services to stay open. The ultimate decision rests in the hands of the courts.

Enter Gearin and Judge Bruce W. Christopherson, who in a separate ruling agreed that the state's judicial system should continue to function during a shutdown.

In her ruling, Gearin also appointed retired state Supreme Court Justice Kathleen Blatz as Special Master to hear and make recommendations to the court about funding issues.

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Does Wisconsin spend a lot more than Minnesota?

Posted at 2:04 PM on July 12, 2011 by Paul Tosto (0 Comments)

My colleague Molly Bloom got an intriguing question recently from a citizen in MPR's Public Insight Network. about what seemed to be a huge difference in government spending by Wisconsin compared to Minnesota.

Molly did some digging. She writes:

A source in our Public Insight Network asked why the Wisconsin budget that recently passed was $66 billion while Minnesota's budget likely will be somewhere between $34 and $36 billion even though our populations are very similar (5.2 million vs. 5.6 million).

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I spoke with Christina Wessel at the Minnesota Budget Project and she explained that it's because Minnesota and Wisconsin deal with their budgets differently. The budget that's being debated right now in Minnesota is the general fund money.

When you include all funds (Transportation & Transit, Special Revenue, Debt Service and Federal), then Minnesota's biennium budget is actually $65.7 billion. That $66 billion budget that Wisconsin passed includes their general fund and all other funds.

So, Minnesota's and Wisconsin's budgets are very similar in size, even though the budget bill numbers being talked about seem very different.

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We've been asking listeners and sources in our Public Insight Network for questions about the Minnesota shutdown (you can ask yours here).

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GOP calls again for special session; no new offer?

Posted at 3:11 PM on July 12, 2011 by Paul Tosto (0 Comments)
Filed under: Budget

Gov. Mark Dayton said this morning he was awaiting a counter offer on the budget from Republicans and that he understood it was nearly complete.

It appears now he'll be waiting awhile.

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Republican leaders at an afternoon press conference simply restated they want Dayton to call lawmakers back into a special session to deal with bills where they say they and the governor are near agreement.

So is a new counter offer coming? House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, wouldn't say. But he did make it clear that none of his House Republicans will vote for a tax increase.

Republicans have not made a budget move since June 30 except to push for a lights on bill.

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Republican officials say there are six bills with $19 billion in spending where they and Dayton are only $91 million apart and that and those bill could put 16,000 out of 22,000 laid off state employees back to work if the governor would call a special session.

MPR News reporter Tom Scheck, though, reports that Dayton's staff says they are not close on those bills.

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Shutdown a mixed bag to northern Minnesota tourism

Posted at 4:37 PM on July 12, 2011 by Paul Tosto (0 Comments)

From MPR's Tom Robertson:

In the summertime, this public rest stop on the shore of Cass Lake is usually bustling with activity. It sits right in the city limits of Cass Lake and is one of the only rest stops on Highway 2 between Duluth and the North Dakota border. The facility also serves as the town's visitor center and Chamber of Commerce headquarters. Now, concrete barriers and a huge closed sign block the entrance.

Chamber director Sue Schafroth has to work out of her home, because her office is inside the locked facility.

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"We have a lot of people that come through here and they want to see what is in the area that they can do or places they can stay... and they can't come in here anymore. They've been blocked off from getting this information. And it's a hardship. It's a hardship for our businesses that put their flyers out here, and people can't even see what we have to offer in Cass Lake."

Schafroth says what's worse is that the only public boat launch in the city is also behind the barricade. Visitors have to travel several miles up the road to find another free boat launch site.

Shafroth says that means less business for local restaurants, bait shops and retail stores.

Before the government shutdown began 12 days ago, DNR officials projected that tourism would lose about $12 million dollars for each week of a shutdown. Now, with most state employees laid off, there's no one around from the DNR or the state tourism office to assess the impact.

Just a few miles up the road, officials at the Chippewa National Forest are seeing a very different impact. Kay Getting is the Chippewa's public affairs officer. Getting says the federally managed forest got a lot busier after Minnesota's 66 state parks shut down July 1st.

"We're seeing a large influx of people looking to reorganize their vacation time, so they're looking for available camping spots... So I'm expecting that if all of their July plans and maybe their August plans even are thwarted, they're going to be contacting us for... opportunities."

Observers expect the shutdown will have a very mixed impact on businesses in the state.

Tom Hesse is vice president of government affairs for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. Hesse says many businesses won't be impacted at all, some will be hurt, and some private sector businesses in the recreation and tourism industry may actually benefit as state-run facilities remain closed. But Hesse says ultimately it may be hard to measure the true financial impact.

While Minnesota is losing millions from state park camping fees and fishing license sales, the state is also paying another price. Some of the state's closed state parks and forests have been the target of vandalism.

(photo: Cass Lake Chamber of Commerce)

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What we know

Posted at 5:45 PM on July 12, 2011 by Paul Tosto (0 Comments)

As Day 12 of the Minnesota state government shutdown rolls into the evening, here are some of the things we've learned today.

Dayton's road show rolls on.
Gov. Mark Dayton kicked off his tour of Minnesota towns in St. Cloud where the conversation focused largely on K-12 funding. On Wednesday, he's in Rochester and Albert Lea. MPR's Tim Pugmire reports that despite his absences from the Capitol, Dayton insists he remains available to negotiate. Republican leaders say they too are ready to meet, but once again, there are no talks scheduled.

A Republican counter offer is not coming soon. Dayton earlier in the day said he believed a new Republican budget offer was in the works and would be completed soon. Republicans later today threw cold water on that, calling again for a special session and declining to say whether a new offer would be coming. Republican House Speaker Kurt Zellers made it clear that his caucus will not vote for a tax increase.

All in all, a day that started with Republicans and Democrats talking, at least a little, in St. Cloud ended with the two sides still firmly entrenched in their positions.

There's nothing on that horizon that looks like compromise.
Things can change quickly, but right now there's no sign of it Not much happened today. And DFLers have already sent word of an event Wednesday on the Capitol steps highlighting the struggles many are going through during the shutdown.

Earlier today Republican Rep. Steve Gottwalt suggested the best route would be to get the key leaders out of St. Paul and into a locked room in St. Cloud where they could hammer out a deal. Kind of an intriguing idea.

As of right now, though, Wednesday looks like it will start with more partisan press conferences, not negotiations.

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