Today and tomorrow the Governor is scheduled to meet in all day talks with legislative leaders in an attempt to reach a solution. Yesterday a host of lawyers representing different interests — the Governor office, the Attorney General’s, both the House and Senate, and various interest groups — appeared in Ramsey County District Court in front of Judge Gearin. Throughout the day they debated the scope of state government operations in the case of the likely government shut down next week.
We have just over one week before the vast majority of Minnesota’s state government shuts down, negatively impacting virtually every Minnesotan. There is no doubt that the pain of the shutdown will be felt far and wide. While the courts will ultimately decide what is deemed critical and is funded during any government shutdown, contingency plans have been developed and we’re getting a sense of just how painful a shutdown would be for the people of Minnesota.
Teenagers won’t be able to get driver’s licenses, families will not be able to get the high-quality child care that they rely on, our K-12 schools might not receive any further aid after July 15, families wouldn’t be able to enjoy our state parks and trails, or get their fishing licenses, colleges and universities could be forced to tap into their reserves and borrow more money, and over 30,000 state workers will go without paychecks. Overall, 49 agencies could close and the rest would operate with minimal staff, keeping only operations running related to the health and public safety of Minnesotans.
The pain that will result from a government shutdown is a reminder to keep our focus on preventing it from happening. Governor Dayton has modified his budget proposal twice, including a compromise offer of half cuts and half revenue through a tax increase on the wealthy 2 percent of Minnesotans. The Republican majority first proposed a budget only slightly more than the last budget signed by Governor Pawlenty. They have been unwilling to compromise to even Governor Dayton’s new lower number so far.
Unfortunately I don’t see a likely resolution of this previous to a government shutdown. Throughout the legislative session, but particularly on the big budget bills, my DFL colleagues and I offered amendment after amendment in an attempt to moderate the bills and make them more acceptable to the Governor. Overwhelmingly they were rejected by the GOP majority.
Usually the conference committee process moderates bills as the conferees take a long view at the issues before them. Interestingly this year, unlike the past four when the DFL was in control, almost all of the conference committees were made up entirely of GOP members, allowing for no alternative voices at the table and no conduit to the Governor’s office. In some cases, like the K-12 bill, the proposal actually came back more extreme from the conference committee than when it initially passed the floor.
The GOP majority is both very focused and very disciplined. On the last night of session when the House was considering the Legacy amendment bill (the 3/8th cent dedicated sales tax for art, outdoors, etc) 110 members voted in a bipartisan fashion to send the bill back to committee because of a provision that would have exempted some of the decision making process for Legacy funds from the state’s open meeting laws. A few minutes later, without a meeting or any discussion that vote was reversed on a party line basis. This was an amazing display of party discipline but not a positive display of values of flexibility or compromise.
A wise elder from around the Capitol observed recently that for political reasons, it may be that the GOP needs to take the state to a shutdown before they can compromise to show their own political base that they mean it when it comes to their agenda. How long that takes is unclear, but it’s in the hands of Minnesotans like you to demand that they finally come to the table with substantive compromise proposals sooner, rather than later. What I fear has been lost is an appreciation of the art and science of leadership that includes claiming your victories, regretting your losses, and moving along to the next fight.
A budget agreement will only be forged through compromise. I encourage you to contact Republican leaders in the House and the Senate as well as Governor Dayton and tell them to compromise. That is the Minnesota tradition. We were elected to not only do what’s right for the people of their districts; they were also elected to help do what’s right for the entire state. A painful government shutdown is not in the best interests of a single person in our state.
During this important time, I encourage you to offer your insight, feedback, questions and concerns. My office door in St. Paul is always open, or you can reach me by phone at 651-296-0173 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for the honor of serving you in state government.