MPR News reporter Jennifer Vogel writes:
Just as the Legislature is about to begin a special session to settle the state's budget, the revenue department has issued a release stating that Local Government Aid checks -- scheduled to be issued tomorrow -- will be delayed until at least July 27.
Perhaps more unsettling for some cities, the release suggests that the payments "will be revised to reflect the new 2011 levels." The LGA payment amounts that will be approved by the Legislature and governor are unknown at this point.
MPR News reporter Laura Yuen adds:
Gary Carlson of the League of Minnesota Cities says the department apparently needs time to compute the new amounts based on the pending passage of a tax bill as part of a state budget deal.
"We were wondering over the last several days if the delay in the special session was going to create a problem for the administration of LGA, and sure enough, now we get the official word that the tax bill will contain language that will delay by one week the requirement for the payment of LGA."
The League is anticipating that the amounts will reflect those included in a GOP bill vetoed by Governor Dayton earlier this year. That would mean most cities would receive less than they were promised for 2011, and likely the same as they received in 2010.
This article in the Des Moines Register caught my eye.
According to the story, lottery ticket sales at stores along the Iowa-Minnesota boarder are getting a boost. The Minnesota Lottery has been shuttered during the shutdown.
The story quotes Iowa Lottery Vice President Mary Neubauer:
"We have checked with locations in a few different communities that are along the major highways that run between Iowa and Minnesota, and stores there are seeing an increase in Iowa Lottery sales."
The Jo Stop convenience store along Interstate Highway 35 near Northwood, which is just south of Albert Lea, Minn., has seen lottery sales running at two to three times normal. The North Star Express, another Northwood-area convenience store, reports lottery sales up 25 percent, Neubauer said.
Speaking of lost revenue, MPR's Annie Baxter takes a look at how Canterbury Park, a horse racing track in Shakopee, MN, is faring during the shutdown. The facility must remain closed because the Minnesota Racing Commission, which oversees Canterbury, is not considered a core government function.
Already, the park has been forced to lay off 1,000 of it's 1,300 employees. But Baxter reports that the shutdown is having a ripple effect on businesses in the surrounding area.
Worker layoffs mean lost tourism and decreased spending for places like Canterbury. Lost revenue is one of the biggest costs of the shutdown, according to the economic forecasting firm Moody's Analytics. It estimates that the shutdown will siphon between $60 million and $75 million out of the Minnesota economy over a two-week period.
Read the rest of Baxter's story here.
The short story: so far, OK.
According to Olson's report, neither county has been forced to let workers go, though Hennepin County did notify about 1,200 of its 7,500 employees that they may be laid off at some point.
In both counties, road construction continues, including the Central Corridor rail line between Minneapolis and St. Paul, as do county-administered services including child protection.
Still, city and county officials are most concerned about getting a state aid payment due this month that will allow them to continue offering many services without tapping reserves.
Many county services are mandated by state laws and regulations. Counties rely on two checks a year from the state, called county program aid, to help pay the costs, according to Mark Stenglein, vice chairman of the Hennepin County Board.
Stenglein says it appears likely -- but not certain -- at this point that Hennepin County's next program aid check will arrive next week. It should amount to between $10 million and 14 million, depending on budget negotiations.
"Probationary services to watch offenders, or mental health services the state mandates we have to do, and they pay for it, but it's in question now and our check is due from the state," Stenglein said. "Minus that, that leaves us only to backfill it from our own property taxes."
Read Olson's entire story here.
Hennepin County expected to close its seven service centers as part of a possible state shutdown. The centers depend on state computer systems to process various kinds of licenses.
But then a Ramsey County judge ruled this week in favor of keeping many of the databases running. So the county will continue to operate those centers past tonight.
MPR News reporter Laura Yuen writes:
Hennepin County Administrator Richard Johnson says county officials still need to decide at what levels to staff the centers.
"One of our concerns here is Minnesota is shutting down. Today, for example, you can go online, order your driver's license tags, and they will be mailed to you," he said. "That service will not be available if the state shuts down. We think that work will come and divert to our service centers. So do we staff up to handle that or not?"
Johnson says he will likely rescind nearly 130 layoff notices that were sent earlier this week to service center staff.
An additional 1,100 county employees who work in human services still do not know whether they can keep their jobs.
County officials are still sorting through what human services programs will continue during a shutdown. While the court ruling protects federally funded efforts, Johnson says some other areas that are less certain.
"I wouldn't want to minimize that there's still a lot of clients who are going to be affected here that did not get resolved."
Johnson says jobs programs and money for homeless shelters fall into that gray area.
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."
Hennepin County officials have been painting a bleak picture of life in a state government shutdown.
This afternoon, they backed a plan that would:
-- close service centers -- offices where citizens get driver's licenses, motor vehicle tabs, passports, and boating and fishing licenses -- on July 5;
-- continue providing services to people with serious and persistent mental illness or who are in chemical dependency treatment;
-- continue providing child protective services;
-- continue all Hennepin County road and bridge projects.
MPR News reporter Brandt Williams writes:
Commissioner Mike Opat says it would be a waste of time and money to keep the county service centers open.
"As much as I would like to think we could stay open, we are an arm of the state and most of those transactions are enough of a share where I think - to keep them open and have people come in only to find out that they can't conduct their business is a bad scenario in a number of ways."
Commissioners also voted to authorize the county attorney to join a current lawsuit designed to protect funding for core services during a shutdown.
The county's sending layoffs to more than 1,300 staff.
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."
We noted earlier that spending on health and human services will take one of the first big hits if state government shuts down in July.
Hennepin County officials today doubled down on that worry as officials laid out a grim scenario for many of the county's most vulnerable citizens.
MPR's Laura Yuen reports:
Board Chair Mike Opat says he's worried that the shutdown would shred the safety net for the most vulnerable families. He says nonprofits that administer government programs, such as group homes and work programs for the disabled, will hang in the balance if checks from the state stop coming.
"Instead of the developmentally disabled person going to their work site, they're going to sit home all day because the state program that pays for the van to get them to the shelter workshop isn't funded anymore. So that's going to be kind of a quiet tragedy that happens."
Other programs at risk include child-care assistance, treatment for chemical dependency, and housing for people with serious mental illness.
County officials have identified four services -- homeless shelters, mental health crisis operations, emergency case management and the county's call center -- as crucial to the health and safety of citizens that could be excluded from "core services" state funding.
The board meets again Monday to discuss next possible steps. Yuen says commissioners could take a vote Tuesday. Commissioners are also weighing a layoff of about 80 employees and shutting down licensing centers.