Shutdown is serious business
Special legislative sessions may not be so special, but a government shutdown is. As the weeks have progressed since Minnesota's special session began on May 24, lack of progress became more and more apparent. "I think it is fair to say negotiati...
Special legislative sessions may not be so special, but a government shutdown is.
As the weeks have progressed since Minnesota's special session began on May 24, lack of progress became more and more apparent.
"I think it is fair to say negotiations and discussions have stalled out, the parties have reached an impasse," Gov. Tim Pawlenty said in announcing what he would like to remain open during a partial government shutdown.
The governor relied heavily on a 2001 court ruling in deciding what to recommend stay open if legislators do not finish a budget by the July 1 start of a new budget cycle. In 2001, under Gov. Jesse Ventura, legislators finally passed their last budget bills 20 hours before a shutdown would occur, but the state already had a court order stating what could remain operating without a budget.
Minnesota never has endured a government shutdown - full or partial - due to lack of a budget. The public little noticed a late 2001 strike by more than 20,000 state workers and a similar one in 1981. A partial government shutdown on July 1 could find the same reaction.
Employment Relations Commissioner Cal Ludeman, who is spearheading Pawlenty's shutdown preparations, called the possible shutdown a constitutional crisis.
It is good to take a step back to see what all of this really means:
The Legislature usually passes a two-year budget in odd-numbered years. It is traditional for lawmakers to pass major spending bills near the May constitutional deadline to adjourn the year's session. Several times in recent years they missed the deadline and the governor called a special session to finish the budget.
This year, funding already is approved for colleges and universities, prisons, courts, governor's office and many other state departments. Legislators have not agreed on how to fund public school, health-care, agriculture and economic development programs, as well as how to raise revenues.
Programs already funded will go on normally after July 1. But those areas that don't have funding bills generally do not have permission to spend money.
State officials have gone through budgets for the unfunded agencies and Pawlenty recommended how many employees should be considered essential and be funded after budgets dry up on July 1. In agencies that so far are not funded, he wants 8,500 to be considered essential, leaving 15,700 to be laid off until a budget is passed.
Hatch and Pawlenty must present this information to a Ramsey County judge, who is expected to decide who should remain on the job on June 29, the day before the current budget ends.
"Our goal is to protect as many services that are important to the state of Minnesota ... as possible," Pawlenty said.
But the judge may not agree with his recommendation. The judge could say far fewer than the 8,500 workers are essential, thus forcing more programs to close. That would create a scramble in the final hours of the current budget cycle.
It's a process Minnesota never has undergone, so there probably will be surprises. The best surprise for Minnesotans would be if legislators stop feuding and pass a budget before all this shutdown talk turns to reality.
Davis is The Forum's Capitol correspondent in St. Paul. He can be reached at email@example.com