State agencies opening and ramping upby Matt Sepic, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — The government shutdown officially ended Wednesday when Gov. Mark Dayton signed the budget bills. However, Thursday is when things really get moving again.
Twenty-two thousand laid-off state employees began returning to work this morning. They'll spend their first few days back on the nuts-and-bolts work of restarting state services.
For someone just passing through Minnesota, one of the most obvious indications of the shutdown were the barricades and ROAD CLOSED signs at highway rest stops. Though cash is flowing again, Minnesota transportation department spokesman Kevin Gutknecht says it'll take a few days to get all 90 of the facilities ready for travelers.
"Across the state there have been a lot of storms. So there could be a lot of storm damage, there's probably mowing that needs to be done," he said. "But I do know that's going to be a priority for us."
Many rest stops will likely be open by Saturday. But restarting road construction will take a bit longer because many contractors moved their equipment to other jobsites.
State parks will be back to normal soon too. But like the rest stops, there's a three-week maintenance backlog. Chris Niskanen with the Department of Natural Resources says the first thing returning workers will do is clean up downed trees and clear trails.
He says bathrooms and other facilities at many parks will reopen Friday. But camping won't be allowed until Saturday or later, though overnight reservations will be honored at individual parks as they reopen. However because of a backlog, new reservations will not be accepted until Tuesday at 8 a.m.
There's better news for anglers. Niskanen says the electronic licensing system was booted up just after Dayton signed the budget.
"Our ELS system is up and running, which means folks can go to any of our ELS vendors, and those are mostly sporting goods vendors and bait shops and such, and they can go and buy a license," he says.
As with the parks, it'll take a few days to mop the floors and shake out the rugs at Minnesota's museums and historic sites. Those reopen Saturday.
Restaurant, bar and liquor store owners who let their liquor cards expire can breathe more easily today. Doug Neville with the Department of Public Safety says those businesses have a bit more time to get their paperwork in order.
"Any buyer's card that expired between June 15 and July 25 can be used until July 31," he says. "So wholesalers will accept that card that expired just before and during the shutdown, and can honor that until the end of the month."
Drivers license renewals never shut down because much of that work is handled by private contractors. But 16-year-olds itching for mom's car keys had to wait. Now the Department of Public Safety says anyone with a road test scheduled for Thursday or later will be able to take it as scheduled. But those who had a test canceled during the shutdown should call soon to reschedule.
One part of state government that was not affected severely by the shutdown was the Department of Corrections. Just 15 percent of the staff was laid off. Corrections spokesman John Schadl says that'll make it easy to get back to normal.
"In a correctional facility, you want to make sure you have a consistent routine, and that offenders are occupied in a constructive manner," Schadl said. "So, anytime you start to pull back even a small amount of services, it does impact the routine. And that's always something to be concerned about and something to keep a close eye on."
However one part of the routine dropped during the shutdown was inmate visits. But Schadl says visiting hours resume Thursday.
State number-crunchers will be back at work too. Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter says one big challenge the accountants have is figuring out exactly how much it cost to close down Minnesota's government for three weeks and start it back up again.
- Morning Edition, 07/21/2011, 7:21 a.m.