Shutdown brings numerous questions
ST. PAUL - Questions and answers about a partial Minnesota state government shutdown: Q. Why is there talk of a government shutdown? A. It appeared that Minnesota legislators would not pass about 70 percent of the state's $30 billion, two-year bu...
ST. PAUL - Questions and answers about a partial Minnesota state government shutdown:
Q. Why is there talk of a government shutdown?
A. It appeared that Minnesota legislators would not pass about 70 percent of the state's $30 billion, two-year budget before the new budget cycle begins today. While there is plenty of money available because taxes continue to be collected, state agencies need specific authority before spending money.
Q. So how can some government functions continue?
A. There are two answers. First, legislators already passed bills funding prisons, courts, several state agencies (including the Legislature, governor's office and attorney general's office) and public colleges. At the last minute, they were prepared to fund agriculture, environment and economic development programs. Second, even agencies without funding bills - transportation, public schools and social services - will remain partially open. These agencies provide what a court decided were essential services.
Q. Why is a court involved?
A. Because it looked like the Legislature would not fulfill its constitutional duty to approve budgets, Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Attorney General Mike Hatch went to court asking for its permission to spend money on essential services.
Q. What is an essential service?
A. Obviously, essential is in the eye of the beholder. But there was general agreement on what should remain open. The Department of Transportation was allowed to continue inspecting road construction work on the theory that money would be wasted if the projects stopped. Also, licenses such as the state issues to drivers can be renewed, but new licenses cannot be issued because they involve costly tests. Food inspections and other safety-related programs will continue.
Q. What are some services I might notice that may be closed?
A. People traveling on the holiday weekend may find state-funded highway rest areas closed. Highways may not receive as much maintenance as usual, and lanes may be closed until repairs can be made. New state licenses would not be issued, including those for drivers, real estate agents and insurance agents.
Q. Would a partial shutdown affect the economy?
A. It could if it continues for a long period of time. For example, the Department of Transportation will not issue oversize-load permits. That means construction equipment destined for construction projects could not be hauled on the state's highways. If a contractor needs that equipment to finish a building, workers may have to be laid off until the shutdown ends and the oversize-load permit is granted.
Q. When would a shutdown end?
A. Only when legislators send Gov. Tim Pawlenty bills funding the areas that are affected and Pawlenty signs them.
Q. When will that happen?
A. When Pawlenty and legislators agree on how much to spend in the remaining areas and how to get that money. They generally agree on how much to spend on education and are getting closer on social services spending. But they cannot agree on how to raise the money.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Don Davis at (651) 290-0707