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Minnesota shutdown: Lawmakers seek to restart road work

ST. PAUL - Schools get money during Minnesota's state government shutdown, so a pair of legislative transportation leaders say road construction funding also should continue.

ST. PAUL - Schools get money during Minnesota's state government shutdown, so a pair of legislative transportation leaders say road construction funding also should continue.

A judge hearing the case gave them little hope that she would allow resumption of the 98 road construction projects the shutdown idled. An estimated 10,000 workers were on road projects before the shutdown.

"Due to the shutdown, the public is going to be weaving through cones and barrels," Rep. Michal Beard, R-Shakopee, told Chief Judge Kathleen Gearin in her Ramsey County courtroom Wednesday.

Beard and Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar, are legislative transportation committee chairmen but said they brought the case to restart construction as knowledgeable citizens, not legislators.

Gearin hinted she likely will rule against the pair.


"It sounds like all of a sudden you want me to be a super-activist judge," she told the two Republicans, touching on a political issue in which Republicans often complain about activist judges.

The construction case joins several others awaiting Gearin's ruling. She often has said in open court that she opposes authorizing the spending of money during the shutdown unless it is for essential uses.

On Monday, Gearin indicated that she leaned against allowing the state to rehire laid-off workers to continue an environmental impact study for Polymet mining, which wants to open a northeastern Minnesota copper and nickel mine.

On Tuesday, she spoke against allowing Department of Natural Resources regulators from going back on the payroll to supervise logging on state lands. That case will be argued more in depth Monday.

Gimse said he remained hopeful, even after hearing Gearin's opinions. The hope comes from the two legislators' view that the state constitution requires funding schools and road projects, the only two areas specifically listed in the document.

The Willmar senator was not happy that Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton opposed restarting construction: "I get the feeling that they will continue to put forth roadblocks."

Gimse and Beard have not met personally with the governor since the legislative session adjourned on May 23, although they have had two meetings with his staff.

The Legislature adjourned after passing a Republican-written budget that Dayton vetoed the next day. Republicans want to limit spending in the next two years to $34 billion, while Dayton wants to increase some taxes to boost spending to $35.8 billion.


Without a budget in place July 1, when the new budget was to start, much state spending stopped. About 22,000 workers were laid off, although all of the court system and Legislature remain funded.

In other shutdown news:

Reports surfaced that some people who sell fishing licenses are accepting payments for licenses and giving buyers a receipt on the assumption that conservation officers will not write them tickets for illegal fishing. The Department of Natural Resources website reports that during the shutdown "all natural resource and license laws will remain in effect during a shutdown and will be enforced."

Gearin ordered the Minnesota Family Investment Program welfare plan to continue.

Some child care assistance programs will be allowed to pay benefits, but not migrant child care funding.

Davis works for Forum Communications Co., He can be reached at (651) 290-0707 or ddavis@forumcomm.com

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