The Washington Post

Minnesota government shuts down after budget talks stall, blame game begins

The Minnesota state government shut down at midnight Thursday after the Republican-controlled legislature and Democratic Governor Mark Dayton failed to reach a deal on the budget. As Rachel Weiner reported :

After six months of disagreement and seven days of intense negotiations, the Minnesota state government shut down at midnight last night.

Gov. Mark Dayton (D) and the Republican-controlled legislature have been in a standoff since the beginning of the legislative session over how to close a projected $5 billion budget deficit.

In an echo of the national budget fight, Dayton wanted to raise taxes on the wealthiest 2 percent of Minnesotans. Republicans wanted to close the gap with spending cuts and accounting shifts.

“I cannot accept a Minnesota where people with disabilities lose part of the time they are cared for by personal care attendants so that millionaires don’t have to pay $1 more in taxes,” Dayton said at about 10 P.M. last night, when it became clear that a deal would not be reached.

It’s the second shutdown in six years in the state. The last one came in 2005, under former governor Tim Pawlenty — now a Republican presidential candidate. That shutdown lasted eight days, and about 9,000 workers were temporarily laid off.

Republicans say they are willing to meet over the holiday weekend for further negotiations, but they have not heard from the governor about doing so.

A judge ruled earlier this week that only core government functions will continue while the government is shuttered, which means public safety, welfare programs, care for residents in state facilities (including prisons), preservation of the government financial system and necessary administration functions (for example, payments and computer system maintenance).

That means state parks will close for the holiday weekend, the busiest of the year. The Department of Natural Resources has estimated tourism losses of $12 million for each week the government is closed.

The Minnesota budget crisis might give Tim Pawlenty a boost in his presidential run, but it could also hurt the former Minnesota governor. As Aaron Blake explained:

Tim Pawlenty (R) says a government shutdown could be a good thing for his home state.

But is the shutdown in Minnesota a good thing for the former Minnesota governor’s 2012 presidential aspirations?

On the one hand, the episode allows Pawlenty a platform to boast about his fiscal conservatism and tell the Republican legislature in his home state not to shirk its fight from Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton. And he could use the attention to breathe life into a campaign that some say is struggling.

On the other, it recalls another state government shutdown that occurred on Pawlenty’s watch – after which he enacted a cigarette “fee” (a.k.a. tax) – and, more importantly, will call into question the financial condition in which he left his state when he left office in January.

Seeking to either harness the potential political gain and/or get out ahead of the attacks, Pawlenty held an impromptu press conference at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport Thursday evening, in which he compared Minnesota’s problems to the country’s fiscal issues.

“Both in Washington, D.C. and in St. Paul, the Democrats continue their thirst for more spending and more taxes,” he said. “And that’s not the right direction for Minnesota, and it’s not the right direction for our country.”

Pawlenty was also asked, though, about the situation he left the state in earlier this year, with a budget shortfall that has been estimated at $5 to 6 billion.

After the shutdown came into effect, both Democrats and Republicans blamed the other party for forcing the state government to close. As AP reported:

With Minnesota’s state government closed for business, the focus shifted Friday to who’s to blame.

The shutdown started at 12:01 a.m. Friday, the product of an ongoing dispute over taxes and spending between Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative majorities. Talks fell apart well before the deadline, leaving state parks closed on the brink of the Fourth of July weekend, putting road projects at a standstill and forcing thousands of state worker layoffs.

The heads of the state’s Republican and Democratic parties each say the other side is responsible.

Minnesota GOP Chairman Tony Sutton called Dayton a “piece of work” and accused him of inflicting “maximum pain” for political reasons.

Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party Chairman Ken Martin laid the blame on Republicans, saying they drove the state to a shutdown to protect millionaires from tax increases sought by Dayton.

“Shame on you for putting the interests of your rich campaign donors ahead of the well-being of the constituents you are supposed to represent,” Martin said.

More from The Washington Post

Right Turn: Minnesota shutdown: The shape of things to come?

WhoRunsGov Profile: Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton

The Fix: Conflict over Iron Range highlights looming legal battle in MN over redistricting


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