Minnesota shut down its government at midnight Thursday, after Governor Mark Dayton and legislative leaders failed to resolve differences on how to erase a budget deficit.
The Minnesota budget war mirrors other skirmishes in other states and in Washington. A weak economy is generating far less revenue for operating state government — in this case, $5 billion less. The Democratic governor wants to include tax increases in the solution, which the Republican-dominated Legislature refuses to accept.
Dayton and legislative leaders had made significant progress cutting the gap. As usual with budget issues, however, the last mile proved the longest Thursday, and reaching agreement on how to deal with the remaining $1.4 billion proved too much for Minnesota’s leadership.
Dayton heaped abuse and blame on Republicans for inflexibility on tax revenue.
“They would prefer to protect the richest handful of Minnesotans at the expense of everyone else,” Dayton said, according to Politico. “Instead of taxing their friends, they would prefer very damaging cuts to health care, public safety, mass transit.”
Republican leaders shoveled back. “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,” said House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, in a statement. “This is debt that they can’t afford. It’s debt that we can’t afford right now.”
The Star Tribune reported that one possible cause of the breakdown was the governor’s rejection of a controversial proposal to require Minnesotans to produce an approved photo ID before being allowed to vote.
The Republican Party is pushing the photo ID requirement and other voting restrictions in states where the GOP holds legislative power, such as Minnesota. The newspaper reported that more restrictions on abortion were also part of the GOP offer Dayton turned down.
As with any state shutdown, some operations continue. The state police will continue to patrol the highways, prison guards will remain on duty, and financial payments will flow as usual, including welfare, food stamp and Medicaid payments.
Almost every other state function is dead.
“I feel sorry for anyone trying to get anything processed through the Minnesota government,” Minneapolis resident Bridget Spaniol told the Star Tribune. She spent over three hours trying to get a marriage license Thursday as the gears of government ground to a halt.
Minnesotans were stunned by the impasse and embarrassed by the shutdown.
“It’s a very sad day for Minnesota,” Lawrence R. Jacobs, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota, told the New York Times. “It’s a state that had a well-earned reputation for being well governed, where, at the end of the day, politics were done in a fair and efficient manner. And it’s now on the cusp of ungovernability. There’s a new ethic here that compromise is weakness.”