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Published: Thursday, 7/21/2011

Minnesota government shutdown ends after 20 days

Offices reopen today; millions in revenue lost

ASSOCIATED PRESS

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota's state government shutdown ended Wednesday after 20 days, millions in lost revenue, and frustration on the part of residents and politicians.

The stoppage made the state a national example of political dysfunction, a small-scale mirror of the dispute in Washington over whether to raise the debt ceiling. But while federal lawmakers appeared close to a deal, no such progress was made in Minnesota, where the budget agreement was widely panned for just putting off the problems until later.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton pushed for months to raise taxes on the state's richest residents to provide more money for social services, while Republicans adopted a "live within our means" motto. In the end, the state will spend more by delaying aid to schools and borrowing against future payments from a legal settlement with tobacco companies.

Mr. Dayton said the budget was the best deal he could get given what he called Republican stubbornness.

"I signed it because otherwise, Minnesota wouldn't go back to work," he said at a Capitol bill signing ceremony.

Republicans were equally unhappy, having voted to spend more than they wanted. They also gave up on proposals to ban funding for stem cell research and curb public employees' bargaining rights, while agreeing to a $500 million construction financing package Mr. Dayton wanted for university buildings and flood projects.

"We did compromise with the governor in giving him more money, more money than a lot of Republicans wanted to spend, more money than I wanted to spend," House Majority Leader Matt Dean said.

The gears of government have started to turn again, with 22,000 laid-off state employees told to report to work Thursday to restart everything from lottery ticket sales to state historic sites.

The shutdown closed state parks and two state-regulated racetracks, suspended driver's license exams and some services to the vulnerable, and even threatened to prevent some bars from purchasing alcohol. Court rulings kept payments to schools, local governments, and subsidized health-care programs going, and as the shutdown ground on, a judge gave relief to some programs -- including child-care assistance -- by ruling they were essential.

The state lost millions of dollars in the shutdown, including lost revenue from lottery sales, tax audits, and state fees and concessions, plus money spent preparing to shut down and the cost of unemployment and health benefits for laid-off workers. The full cost wasn't expected to be known for some time.

Republicans and Democrats have been at odds for years over how to address persistent state budget deficits, with GOP leaders pushing for deeper spending cuts and Democrats arguing for new taxes. This year, Mr. Dayton became the state's first Democratic governor in 20 years, while Republicans took over both chambers for the first time in 38 years. The two sides argued bitterly over taxes and spending for months before their failure to pass a budget by the start of the fiscal year sent the state into a shutdown.

Its end was welcome, no more so than by those who felt its effects.

Alice Smith, 52, of St. Paul, who processes GEDs and transcripts at the Department of Education, said this was the hardest layoff of the three she's experienced and it's going to be hard catching up -- both financially and with her workload.

"We're not going to get any back pay," she said. "It's all going to be a struggle for a full month until we get a full paycheck."

"I'm relieved that it's over but I don't really see what it was all about," said Susan Lommen, 60, of Deerwood, whose husband, Guy, was laid off from his state job as a state lottery sales representative. "It seems like we're right back where we started from, because there's no resolution."



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