Government shutdown 1st in history

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 1, 2005

ST. PAUL (AP) &045; An attempt to prevent an unprecedented Minnesota government shutdown crumbled late Thursday, forcing 9,000 state employees from their jobs and halting dozens of state services beginning first thing Friday.

Talks fell apart when the Democrat-led Senate adjourned abruptly without passing a short-term funding measure requested by Gov. Tim Pawlenty and House Republican leaders.

The Senate closed for the night about 20 minutes after the GOP governor had said he was hopeful the sides could arrive at a 10-day &uot;lights on&uot; measure to keep all of state government running while a final budget deal was worked out. Earlier Thursday, the Senate had passed a stopgap measure with no time limit, which the Republicans said they wouldn’t accept.

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No state has had a shutdown since Tennessee in 2002. Pawlenty accused Democrats of orchestrating the closure to embarrass him in the run-up to his 2006 re-election campaign.

&uot;The Democrats turned and left tonight when Minnesota needed them most,&uot; Pawlenty said at a late-evening news conference. &uot;It is an example of irresponsible and bizarre behavior, the likes of which I don’t think I’ve seen before.&uot;

The effects of a partial shutdown will be limited. Several spending bills were approved and a judge ordered the state to provide core services relating to health, safety and property. Still, some 9,000 employees will be locked out.

Eliot Seide, who heads the state’s biggest employee union, lashed out at state leaders for their failure to complete a budget &045; noting that lawmakers and the governor won’t suffer from the shutdown because their budgets are already in place.

Instead, state workers will pay the price, he said.

&uot;The services that they provide, the jobs that they do, the families that they care for, the homes that they take care of, the parents they take care of &045; all in jeopardy because chicken was played in the Legislature by the governor of this state and the Legislature of this state,&uot; Seide said. &uot;It is a bipartisan, nonpartisan, fully partisan failure.&uot;

Pawlenty and leaders from the Legislature had been meeting into the evening trying to reach a deal prior to the midnight deadline. The state’s new fiscal year began Friday, and agencies that didn’t get new spending authorization were shut down at midnight Thursday.

Several services were suspended, including driver’s license exams, and highway rest areas will be closed during the Fourth of July weekend.

Lawmakers hurried through a compromise bill that would keep state parks open and fund agricultural services, meaning one of the most visible signs of a shutdown &045; shuttered state parks heading into a big holiday weekend &045; wouldn’t happen.

At a midevening break in negotiations, Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson said the sides had whittled the gap to less than $200 million in a two-year, $30 billion budget.

Johnson said the Senate did its job by passing a bill that would keep government operating at current levels and avert a shutdown.

&uot;The Senate passed a resolution to continue government,&uot; Johnson said. &uot;Now it will be up to the governor and the House to respond to that.&uot;

Johnson also said that when it seemed negotiations were winding down, Pawlenty presented a new list of conditions for both education and health and human services. He said senators crunched the numbers and believe it amounted to a reduction in school spending levels that had already been tentatively agreed upon.

Republican leaders, such as House Speaker Steve Sviggum, were furious.

&uot;Dean Johnson made his choice. The Senate wanted to shut down government from the beginning,&uot; Sviggum said. He said the House had no plans to pass the Senate’s continued spending bill.

The Legislature went into overtime over five weeks ago, after the regular session ended with the biggest portions of the budget unfinished. Major sticking points were over issues such as subsidized health care, state-sanctioned gambling, taxes and education funding.

Republicans and Pawlenty pushed for cuts in health care spending, a gambling expansion tied to the state’s poorest Indian tribes and a wholesale cigarette charge that would raise roughly $380 million over two years.

Democrats have refused to budge on the health care cuts and held out against more casinos.

They waited until Tuesday to abandon a proposal to raise income taxes on the state’s highest earners. Both sides want to send more money to schools, but they disagreed on how to raise the funds.

On Thursday, Sviggum said he and Pawlenty had backed away from a demand for government reform legislation as part of a budget deal. He and Pawlenty also dropped calls for a new casino at Canterbury Park, although they didn’t declare it off the table for good.

Budgets for prisons, courts, colleges and tax collectors were finished during the regular session, along with a construction projects bill left over from the 2004 impasse.