In Minnesota shutdown, workers who calculate the cost are laid off

Even Minnesota’s leaders don’t know the cost of the state government’s shutdown. That’s because the people who would calculate the price tag were put out of work. 

Now more than six days old, the shutdown has continued to shutter parks and toll booths and to leave thousands of government workers at home. The state’s Democratic governor and Republican lawmakers continued to wrangle, without resolution, over a $5 billion budget gap Wednesday.

The talks were continuing without clarity on the shutdown’s cost. The staff members who would calculate those figures are “currently laid off,” said John Pollard, a spokesman for Minnesota Management and Budget.

Almost all state agencies are operating with minimum staffing, and some are closed entirely. Only government work deemed “essential” is continuing.

Some cost statistics are available. Because of the lack of compliance officers, the Department of Revenue loses $52 million in taxes every month the government is closed. The state is losing $1.25 million a day in lottery sales.

The Department of Transportation is losing $40,000 to $50,000 a week in uncollected tolls. Over the week, the state will lose $80,000 from the closure of the 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 cannot put a number to them. The Department of Administration is not collecting parking fees. The Department of Health is losing revenue from various licensing fees, as is the Department of Education. 

Some unexpected costs have emerged — for example, vandalism at shuttered state parks.

The state is also facing higher unemployment benefits. Under a deal between the administration and public employee unions, state workers were laid off rather than furloughed so that they could collect unemployment during the shutdown. They did not receive severance packages.

Although the details of the final tally are fuzzy, one thing is clear: Even with government barely functioning, the shutdown will almost certainly cost the state more than it saves, Pollard said.

Rachel Weiner covers cops and courts in Arlington and Alexandria.
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