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No way to tell how much the Minnesota shutdown will cost

at 04:11 PM ET, 07/06/2011


Lawmakers' empty parking spots in front of the shuttered Minnesota State Capitol. (Jim Mone - AP)
Even Minnesota’s government doesn’t know how much its shutdown is costing — because the people who calculate such things are out of work. 

The shutdown of Minnesota’s state government is now in its sixth day, with no resolution between the Democratic governor and Republican-led legislature on how to close the state’s $5 billion budget gap. GOP leaders are meeting with Gov. Mark Dayton (D) again on Wednesday.

But one thing on which they are unlikely to get any clarity is the size of the price tag for the days the state Capitol will be dark.

“Several of each agencies staff that would help calculate these costs are currently laid off,” said John Pollard, a spokesman for the Minnesota Management and Budget Office.

Thousands of state workers temporarily lost their jobs when the government froze on Friday morning. Under a deal struck between the administration and public employee unions, staffers were laid off rather than furloughed, so that they could collect unemployment during the shutdown. They did not receive severance packages.

The move was a compromise and would allow workers to return to their jobs with full benefits once state government reopens.

Almost all state agencies are operating at a minimum staffing level during the shutdown, and some are completely closed. Only government jobs deemed “essential” are continuing to operate. And calculating the cost of the shutdown is not exactly pressing business.

However, there are some statistics we can use to help gauge the cost of the crisis. Due to lack of compliance officers, for instance, the Department of Revenue loses $52 million in taxes for every month the government is closed. The state is also losing $1.25 million a day in lottery sales. The Department of Transportation is forfeiting between $40,000 and $50,000 a week from uncollected MnPass tolls. In the first week, the state will lose $80,000 from the closure of Giants Ridge golf course and convention center. State park closures are costing the state an estimated $200,000 a day.

Other agencies can name their losses but not pin a number on them. The Department of Administration is losing revenue by not collecting parking fees. The Department of Health is losing revenue by not raising money from various licensing fees, as is the Department of Education. 

Of course, even if these agencies had the staff to compute their lost funds, the full economic impact of the shutdown can’t be known until it’s over “such as employee costs, planning costs and payments that needed to be made that otherwise would not have occurred,” Pollard said. Unexpected costs have already emerged — for example, vandalism at shuttered state parks.

While the details are fuzzy, one thing is clear. Even with government barely functioning, the shutdown will almost definitely cost Minnesota more than it saves.

 
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