Rest areas along I-35 in southern Minneosta are closed due to the state government shutting down on Friday going into the July 4 holiday after Democratic Governor Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders failed to reach a budget deal in St. Paul, Minnesota Friday July 1, 2011. (ANDY KING/REUTERS)

The trio is leading a group of bipartisan Minnesota “elder statesmen” that hopes to craft a solution to the state’s debt crisis by the end of the week, they said in a Tuesday morning press conference at the state Capitol. Carlson joked that they hoped to find a solution “lightly distasteful” to both sides.

The Minnesota state government shut down at midnight Friday morning, after a six-month impasse over how to close a $5 billion budget gap. Gov. Mark Dayton (D) wants to raise taxes on the wealthiest Minnesotans; the Republican-controlled legislature wants to rely on spending cuts and accounting shifts.

A Dayton spokeswoman said the bipartisan group had the Dayton’s blessing, explaining that “the governor welcomes the active involvement of anybody who is willing to bring new ideas to the table, to bring us closer to a compromise.”

Republican legislators are meeting with Dayton this afternoon, after a holiday weekend during which no progress was made. Meanwhile, the governor has asked for additional state services to continue during the shutdown, including childcare and domestic-abuse services. (See the full list here.) In Minnesota, a judge determines what services are “essential” while government is not functioning.

The group of elder statesman charged with arriving at a way out of the situation includes former Republican state Sen. Steve Dille and former Democratic state Rep. Wayne Simoneau as co-chairmen. Former finance commissioners Jay Kiedrowski, who served under Gov. Rudy Perpic (D), and John Gunyon, who served under Carlson, are also on the committee. So are two business leaders: former Wells Fargo CEO Jim Campbell and former Medtronic Vice President Kris Johnson. The state budget commissioner, Jim Schowalter, will adminster the group.

Despite the group’s bipartisan nature, some Republicans were skeptical.

“This looks to be a group that was put together by the governor, so I expect it’s going to have that kind of flavor when it comes to balancing the budget,” said state Sen. Geoff Michel (R), the state Senate deputy majority leader. “We’ve got a job to do and I don’t believe we’ll be able to outsource it.”

The focus among Minnesota Republicans is on passing a short-term bill and holding a special session to hammer out budget disagreements. Dayton has repeatedly opposed such stopgap measures.

“We’ve got bills we’re in­cred­ibly close on,” said Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch (R). “This shutdown certainly doesn’t need to be as widespread as it’s been. We could certainly pass a lights-on bill.”

Little happened over the holilday weekend, although some Republican legislators marching in July 4th parades got an earful from constituents who wondered why they weren’t working.

“It's not a vacation for them, they're getting paid,” one Blooming Prairie man told Minnesota Public Radio. “They need to go to work.”

This is the second shutdown in the past ten years for Minnesota. The last one occured in 2005, under then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) and lasted eight days. The governor agreed to a cigarette “fee,” ending the impasse.

Now a candidate for president, Pawlenty has an ad out in Iowa trying to shape the Minnesota narrative in his favor. The 2005 shutdown happened, the ad says, because Pawlenty “would not accept Democrats’ massive tax and spending demands. Result: Pawlenty won.”

Late last week, Pawlenty said he wished he’d let that shutdown last longer.

"I think we would've gotten a better deal had we allowed that to continue for a while," he told repoters in the Minneapolis-St. Paul International airport on Thursday.

Carlson served as governor from 1991 to 1999; in recent years he has become a harsh critic of some fellow Republicans. Durenberger served in the Senate from 1978 to 1995. Mondale served as senator from 1964 to 1976, before serving as Jimmy Carter’s vice president.

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