Minnesota is headed for an unprecedented state government shutdown.
In spite of several days’ worth of intense negotiations, Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders did not come to an agreement on a two-year state budget. Current biennial funding runs out on July 1, forcing all but the most critical state government functions to shut down indefinitely.
“This is going to be, I think, one of those moments in our state’s history we’ll look back on and be very disappointed,” said House Speaker Kurt Zellers (R-Maple Grove).
Budget talks continued off and on right down to the final hours of the midnight June 30 deadline, but a gap of about $1.4 billion remained between the respective proposals. Majority Republican lawmakers proposed passing a “lights-on” bill that would fund government services temporarily.
Dayton called that a “publicity stunt,” and rejected their calls for a special session.
“Anybody who wanted to avoid a shutdown today knew there was one way to do it. That was to accept a budget proposal that would bridge this gap, and we’d have a global agreement and we’d avoid the shutdown,” Dayton said.
Both Dayton and the legislative leaders said they had made progress in closing the gap on the majority of individual budget bills; the key dispute remained the issue of taxes.
From the beginning, Dayton argued the state needed additional revenue, and he proposed raising taxes on high-income earners. He originally proposed $3.2 billion in new revenues, but later revised it down to $1.8 billion. Today, he said he had offered to reduce it to $1.6 billion.
Republican leaders said all along that their proposed budget was already the largest in the state’s history and that no new revenue would be needed. Zellers said the governor’s proposed spending levels are unsustainable.
“We’re talking about runaway spending that we can’t afford. And we will not saddle our children and grandchildren with mounds of debts, with promises for funding levels that will not be there in the future,” he said.
Zellers said Dayton “threw in the towel” on budget negotiations while lawmakers were still ready to work. He and other Republican leaders laid the responsibility for the shutdown squarely at Dayton’s feet.
“This governor has chosen maximum pain — maximum pain for political gain,” said Senate Deputy Majority Leader Geoff Michel (R-Edina).
Dayton said the Republicans’ budget proposal would have thrown poor, elderly and disabled Minnesotans “under the state bus,” and argued the temporary pain of a shutdown is better in the long run than a budget that cuts funding for important state services.
“I will continue tonight, tomorrow and however long it takes to find a fair and balanced compromise,” Dayton said.
Dayton said it was significant that the shutdown would begin on the Fourth of July weekend, because that holiday “reminds us that there are causes and principles worth struggling for.”
Neither Dayton nor the leaders gave any indication of when budget talks might resume.