Minnesota Experiences Unprecedented Government Shutdown Due to Budget Deadlock

by Guest Blogger, 7/11/2005

A budget deadlock in the Minnesota state legislature led to a partial shutdown of the state government, temporarily leaving thousands jobless and halting many important public services. This government shutdown, unprecedented in Minnesota, could have been avoided had the legislature passed a simple stopgap spending bill to fund the government at previous levels until a new budget could be worked out.Hundreds of frustrated citizens and workers gathered in front of the state capitol last week to protest the government shutdown and call for passage of a spending bill or temporary resolution to end the deadlock. The shutdown did not prevent members of the legislature and other state politicians from continuing to draw their own salaries, while thousands of state government employees were left without a paycheck.

The budget negotiations broke down June 30, which coincided with the expiration of the previous fiscal year's budget. Lawmakers were specifically divided along party lines over financing for education and health care, and measures to raise extra state revenue.

Governor Tim Pawlenty (R), House Republicans, and members of the Democratic Farmer-Labor (DFL) party reached a tentative agreement concerning funding specifics on the morning of July 9, but the deal still awaits approval by the full legislature. Legislators are expected to hash-out final details over the next few days.

Not only were thousands left jobless, but vital state services were also affected by the week-long shutdown. The Transportation Department, with the most closings, temporarily discontinued issuing new driver's licenses. The government did call back several Health Department laboratory workers to handle what turned out to be a busy weekend investigating suspected cases of salmonella, Legionnaires' disease and West Nile virus. In addition, select judicial decisions, which some believe violated the state Constitution, allowed government functions in key agencies to continue without legislative appropriations.

For many who have monitored developments related to the shut down, the Minnesota state government took far too long to put partisan difference aside and reach a compromise. The temporarily unemployed workers were forced to use their vacation time during the budget crisis. Had the shut down continued through July 15, as it threatened to, these workers would have been laid off. According to Commissioner of Employee Relations Cal Ludeman, a continuation through July 15 of the shutdown would have left the state facing $211 million in severance costs, including accrued vacation and sick pay, as well as ongoing health and unemployment insurance payouts. Approximately $100 million of that amount, set aside for unemployment benefits, was not budgeted and would ultimately have needed to be made up with cuts to programs in whatever budget was agreed upon.

Minnesota was not the only state to miss a July 1 budget deadline, however it was the only state to have experienced a government shutdown.