Gov. Mark Dayton today vetoed all of the budget bills the Legislature sent to him and the game of “chicken” is on in earnest. The state needs a budget by July 1, or it will have to shut down for the second time in its history.
“It’s too early to worry about that,” some experts say. But that’s the same thing they said in April when the Minnesota Twins came out of Florida and promptly fell on their faces. Moral? It’s never too early to expect the worst, especially when Republicans and Democrats are as far apart on the basic expectations of government as they currently are.
Remember, too, that last January, one House committee was already hearing about government shutdowns. It wasn’t too early then, either.
What can we expect in a state government shutdown? Let 2005 be our guide.
1) Forget about saving any money.
Government shutdowns don’t save the government money. On the contrary, they’re pricey. For example, after 10 days, state workers are eligible for layoff pay. Many will burn vacation time to keep a paycheck coming in, but even then they don’t see the cash right away. They won’t actually get it until the budget is passed. But it will cost the state about $2 million a day. And the cost of preparing for a shutdown is considerable, even if the state doesn’t go toes up. In 2001, it cost $2.7 million, even though the state didn’t shut down.
State workers often need that second paycheck in July to make the mortgage payment. Many will not be able to make it.
2) Schedule a driver’s license exam now.
Put driver’s ed on the fast track. The driver’s license testing stations will likely close right away. Licenses and tabs could probably still be renewed.
3) Closed rest areas
This won’t be that big of a deal, although you can count on seeing lots of visuals on TV and newspapers. There are only a few dozen rest areas in Minnesota anyway and, besides, truck stops and convenience stores are all located off major highways and they have restrooms.
4) Plan your vacation somewhere else.
State Parks will close. But because the July 4th weekend is so important in Minnesota, the Legislature would likely pass a natural resources budget first. Still, you’ll have to decide whether it’s worth the gamble. Wisconsin is lovely at this time of the year.
MnDOT (the Department of Transportation) would likely be the hardest hit. Construction projects might shut down. Potholes won’t be filled. If there are hazards on a highway that couldn’t be removed, the roads would be closed. Roadsides won’t be mowed. The traffic cameras would be shut down. The Highway Helpers will disappear.
About three or four thousand MnDOT employees would likely be furloughed.
6) Battered women and children endangered?:
Some battered women and children shelters could close after several days. State grants which fund them wouldn’t be authorized. A judge would likely determine whether some services are “essential,” and would need to be funded.
7) What’s essential?
In 2005, the state deemed these functions to be “essential” and, thus, funded:
• Medical care of inpatients and emergency outpatient care;
• Activities essential to ensure continued public health and safety, including safe use of
food, drugs, and hazardous materials;
• Continuance of transportation safety functions and the protection of transport property;
• Protection of lands, buildings, waterways, equipment and other property owned by the
• Care of prisoners and other persons in the custody of the government;
• Law enforcement and criminal investigations;
• Emergency and disaster assistance;
• Activities that ensure the production of power and the maintenance of the power
• Activities essential to the preservation of the essential elements of the financial system of the government, including the borrowing and tax collection activities of the government;
• Activities necessary to maintain protection of research property.
It’s possible that the Legislature could pass a “light’s on” bill in a special session, continuing funding at current levels. But that’s more likely if a broader framework for an agreement on budget issues has been reached or is at hand. Passing a “light’s on” bill, however, takes the pressure off reaching deals. There isn’t a lot that politicians at the Capitol agree on, but “light’s on” is usually one of them. They hate “light on” bills.