The government of Minnesota closed for business as of Friday because of a political stalemate over how to plug a $5 billion deficit. Although critical services will continue, including disease outbreak investigations, public health emergency responses, food safety responses and more, other programs and services are affected.
Among the impacts: Some 22,000 state employees are on unpaid furloughs; nearly 65 fully equipped highway rest stops are closed; 100 or more non-critical road construction projects are on ice; state parks and museums have been shuttered; child-care assistance for the poor is on hold; state prisoners cannot receive visits by family members or volunteers; and the Minnesota zoo – intended popular destination for thousands of eager Minnesotans this holiday weekend – is also off limits.
While Democratic governor Mark Dayton insists on taxing the wealthy in order to help close the deficit, state GOP lawmakers argue spending cuts are the answer. The Minnesota budget crisis is a microcosm of the federal debt ceiling budget battle. Dayton and the Republican-led legislature have been at odds for months over how to address the North Star State’s budget woes, and no new talks are scheduled through the long holiday weekend.
Two weeks ago Governor Dayton suggested he would forego his below-average $120,000 salary in the event of a shutdown. “I think it would be terribly wrong for those of us responsible for it, the Republican legislators and myself, to receive our salaries while thousands of dedicated state employees have lost theirs,” Dayton said June 18 in a statement.
This is not the first time Minnesota has been closed for business. In 2005, when presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty was governor, the state had a partial shutdown that lasted nine days. At that time, Minnesota was facing a deficit of $466 million; the shutdown cost the state approximately $12 million. In the past few days, Pawlenty has blamed Democrats for both the current shutdown and the 2005 shutdown. “The equivalence is this: Both in ‘05 and now, you had Democrats demanding that we raise taxes and raise spending,” Pawlenty told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Michele Bachmann, another GOP candidate, is also from Minnesota. On Friday she told supporters, “I applaud Minnesota Republican legislators for standing up to reckless spending and higher taxes. At a time when families and businesses are stretched to the limit due to high federal taxes and a history of excessive executive waste, the last thing the people of Minnesota can afford is higher taxes.”
Minnesota is the only state this year to have its government shuttered, though most states have severe budget issues and some have divided governments. Only four other states in the past decade have closed for business – New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Tennessee.
Minnesota Has Little to Celebrate on Holiday Weekend (CBS News)
The New Fiscal Nightmare: 2012 State Budget Cuts (The Fiscal Times)
State Budget Crisis Offers Lessons for Washington (The Fiscal Times)