Legislators relieved, but still worried about state’s future

Published 9:15 am Thursday, July 21, 2011

Local legislators say they are relieved the state shutdown has come to a close, but worries about Minnesota’s future still remain.

“Certainly the shutdown is coming to an end, but it doesn’t mean the resolution or the outcome of the budget is going to be more apparent,” District 27B Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, said. “At a certain point the day of reckoning is going to come. We will again face a deficit in the next biennium.”

The end of the shutdown came quickly, as legislators spent 12 hours in a special session with Dayton signing off on the bills just six hours after they passed.

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Poppe said some legislators were uncomfortable with how quickly things went once session started. Individually, many of the bills stretched to hundreds of pages, meaning many lawmakers were voting based on little knowledge of what was contained within.

“I think there’s definitely a concern that the legislators are making decisions in what is a very serious situation in a span of 12 hours, when typically that would happen from January to May of a given year. That’s unheard of,” she said. “The K-12 education bill was posted and they kept making changes to it until an hour before the vote was taken.”

In the end, Dayton gave up on the tax increases he had been pushing, while Republicans agreed to soften spending cuts with $1.4 billion in new revenue by delaying state aid payments to schools and borrowing against future payments from a legal settlement with tobacco companies.

Poppe said borrowing against the future is a slippery slope, and Minnesota legislators need to discuss Minnesota’s needs and values before another attempt at balancing the budget.

“We borrowed against the future in order to pay the current bills,” she said. “Although we do that when we bond for projects, it’s different to do it when we’re bonding for everyday expenses.

“It’s a real slippery slope to go down.”

District 27 Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, agreed that steps need to be taken to avoid another shutdown in the future.

“We really need to come together as leaders and find a way to avoid this from happening,” he said. “A government shutdown should not be a negotiation tool or the ultimate decider. Way too many people are affected by it.”

About 22,000 state employees were temporarily laid off for the duration of the shutdown. Dayton Chief of Staff Tina Smith said previously that state employees would get 24-hour notice before returning to work, likely today. Top Dayton adviser Jim Schowalter told reporters it could take weeks to work through paperwork backlogs and clean up parks and other sites.

Once back on the job, state workers will re-open state parks, restart highway construction projects and turn the state lottery back on. They’ll also get back to issuing drivers licenses and permits for alcohol sales, and get dozens of other government services going again.