Minnesota: Closed For Business
Some state offices closed and about 9,000 state employees were jobless Friday after parts of Minnesota's government shut down for the first time in state history, leaving most rest stops closed for the Independence Day weekend.
The shutdown came at midnight after legislators failed late Thursday to pass even a stop-gap plan to keep the government up and running while negotiators keep working. On Friday morning, legislative leaders said they hoped to make another try at quickly getting the government back in operation. "We need to fix it today," said Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, a Democrat. "As far as I'm concerned, a one-day partial government shutdown is enough." House Speaker Steve Sviggum, a Republican, said he's eager to get back to the table as well. "Every day we have more state employees who will be losing pay and losing their benefits," he said. "That is a very significant pressure upon us." Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty has said Democrats wanted a government shutdown to embarrass him in the run-up to his 2006 re-election campaign. "The Democrats turned and left tonight when Minnesota needed them most," Pawlenty said at a late-evening news conference. Many states often miss their deadline for enacting new budgets. But Minnesota, unlike other states, has no law that automatically extends spending past the end of its fiscal year if a new budget is not approved. "I'd like to say I'm sorry to the people of Minnesota," said Republican state Representative Rod Hamilton. "This is disgusting." Minnesota had never before had to suspend services because of a budget dispute. The last state government shutdown was in Tennessee in 2002. A judge earlier this month ordered Minnesota to protect essential services relating to health, safety and property - including state police patrols, nursing homes and food inspections. Legislators were supposed to finish their budget work by May 23, but that deadline passed with only three major spending bills approved, for public safety, higher education and several smaller state agencies. Those sections of government weren't affected by the shutdown. On Thursday, Pawlenty signed into a law a $686 million US bill that would keep the state park system and 25 historic sites open over the busy weekend. It also funded farm and job-training programs, further limiting the effects of the shutdown. Services that were closed included highway rest areas and the issuing of new driver's licences. But the most significant pain would be felt by the roughly 9,000 employees who were locked out without some deal or stop-gap spending plan. Johnson said the sides had whittled the gap to less than $200 million in a two-year, $30 billion budget, but legislators remained deadlocked over issues including school funding and health care for the poor. Eliot Seide, who heads the state's biggest employee union, lashed out at state leaders. He said it will be state workers - not legislators or the governor - who will have to pay the price for their failure to pass a budget. "The services that they provide, the jobs that they do, the families that they care for . . . , all in jeopardy because chicken was played in the legislature by the governor of this state and the legislature of this state," he said. Or more likely Vise Versa With July 1 the start of the fiscal year in many states, other legislatures were grappling with deadlines this week. California entered its new fiscal year Friday without a budget for the fifth time in a row. In New Jersey, acting Gov. Richard J. Codey announced Thursday night that Democratic legislators have agreed on the framework for a new budget, ending a week-long stalemate. In Pennsylvania, legislative leaders continued discussions they hoped would produce a compromise sometime during the holiday weekend.