Senate voted to keep lights on

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 2, 2005

By Dan Sparks, State senator

At the beginning of this legislative session, Senate Democrats made a commitment to uphold the basic values of this state and be responsible to Minnesota citizens. In order to keep our promise, the Minnesota Senate passed a “lights on” bill on Thursday that would have kept state government running and avoided the current partial shutdown we are experiencing.

As I have said in previous articles, I believe this shutdown is a truly regrettable course of action. I am disappointed that we have reached this point, and I am very discouraged by the Republicans in the House of Representatives that voted to shut down government at 12:01 a.m. July 1.

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I had hoped we could complete this session with as little effect on Minnesotans as possible. I voted for a “lights on” bill to keep government running because I wanted to make sure you would be able to enjoy your July Fourth weekend with as little disruption as possible.

And I am choosing not to take a paycheck during the special session because I don’t believe taxpayers should be responsible for our overtime work.

In addition, I voted against my Democratic caucus several times on Thursday, simply to encourage others to compromise and bring an end to this session. I went against my caucus when I voted to prohibit all legislators from taking pay during a government shutdown. And I went against my caucus by voting to limit the number of days we could extend negotiations beyond June 30. Unfortunately, I am only one senator and my efforts did not prevail.

Every, single Senate and House Democrat did stick with me on another unique approach to avoiding a shutdown. We all voted in favor of a “lights on” bill on Thursday when it was becoming clear that the governor was not going to accept a compromise before midnight.

In order to make sure Minnesotans did not have to pay for this disagreement, Democrats passed this bill that would have kept government functioning until we could complete a budget. The bill would have kept 10,000 state workers on the job, kept the highway rest stops open on this busy weekend, kept the warning signals on the highways operating, and allowed Minnesotans to get their driver’s licenses.

However, when we sent this common-sense bill to the House for approval every Republican but one voted to refuse the bill and instead let the clock run out on this legislative session. Rather than provide a safety net to the thousands of Minnesotans who are now inconvenienced, the House Republicans chose to leave everyone hanging and shut down state government.

Although I am disappointed, what’s done is done and now is not the time to place blame. Now is the time to look forward and make sure we find a solution as soon as possible. To that end, Senate Democrats already have presented one new compromise proposal as I write this on Friday afternoon.

We also are in the process of taking up another version of the “lights on” bill that will restore services immediately and allow them to continue until a final compromise is reached. I have every hope that by the time you read this, one of these options has been accepted by Republicans and we are looking at a very quick end to negotiations.

Unfortunately, everyone is now affected by the shut down but I remain optimistic it will come to a quick close. In the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact me with questions and concerns. I am committed to serving you and will do what I can to walk us through this together. Contacts: 651-296-9247;;

or 507-438-2898.