Silent before microphones, legislative leaders take to e-mail

Legislative leaders and the governor have taken a vow of silence on the budget negotiations that may or may not be making progress toward averting a shutdown of state government later this week.

The battle for the hearts and minds is now taking place in the inbox of state employees. House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch sent this e-mail to state employees today:

Dear Valued State Employee:

As Speaker of the House and Majority Leader of the Senate, we want to personally let you know that we do not want a government shutdown. Our best opportunity for resolution is in the next 72 hours. This is a serious time for you, for us and for our state.

The budget that passed the Minnesota Legislature in May spent $34 billion. It represents a 12% increase over the $30 billion this same tax structure brought in for the past two years. If we include the $2.3 billion of federal stimulus dollars that supplemented our current budget during the recession, this $34 billion budget represents a 6% increase in spending. All without raising taxes.

The governor vetoed all but the agriculture budget. He originally wanted to spend $37 billion, and later revised his budget. However, he has yet to provide key details for each part of that budget.

Since the governor vetoed the Legislatures budget bills, we have made three substantive compromises. We funded K-12 education, public safety and courts at the governors requested levels; withdrew our request for tax cuts; and allocated additional resources to higher education, environment, and flood and disaster relief. All were rejected by Governor Dayton.

We also asked to be called to special session – something only the governor can do – so that we can pass bills and avoid an unfortunate, unnecessary and potentially costly shutdown. The Governor has said he will not call a special session.

We, like you, know what it is like to sit around the kitchen table, pay the bills and balance our household budget. We know that our balanced budget includes difficult decisions for state agencies. But you can be sure about one thing: Our budget keeps state agencies open on July 1 and state employees will continue getting paychecks beyond June 30.

We agree with the Pioneer Press editorial from Sunday, June 26 that characterized Governor Daytons negotiations as This is not a compromise. This is hostage taking. Governor Dayton promised as a candidate to not shut down government, and he reiterated that pledge during his State of the State Address this year.

We take him at his word, and we will work everyday to help him keep it. We remain resolved to working with Governor Dayton to complete the state budget by June 30 and to keep state government open.

Sincerely,

Speaker Kurt Zellers

Majority Leader Amy Koch

The letter counters one sent a week ago by Gov. Mark Dayton:

This weekend you received notices that, unless a budget is enacted by July 1st, state government will shut down most of its operations. Most of you would be laid off or placed on an unpaid leave of absence until government operations resume. This was an extremely difficult decision for everyone involved; however, we had no choice but to begin planning for this possibility.

As a precaution, we have identified the most critical government services, which we believe must continue even in a shutdown. Today we have submitted this list to the Ramsey County District Court, which ultimately will decide what services will continue past July 1st, if a shutdown occurs.

I consider virtually all services provided by the state to be essential, and all of them have been established by previous governors and legislatures to serve and benefit the people of Minnesota. My decisions were not based upon personal preferences or policy considerations. Rather, they were instructed by the words of the Minnesota Constitution, which states clearly: “No money shall be paid out of the treasury of this state except in pursuance of an appropriation by law.” (Article XI, Sect. 1.) Thus my decisions were based entirely upon which functions of state government are so critical to protecting the lives and safety of the people of Minnesota, or which, if terminated, would cause such disorder or severe statewide economic impact, that they should be made exceptions to the Constitution’s clear prohibition.

I know that I speak for my entire cabinet when I say that we greatly value you and all of our state’s dedicated employees. We deeply appreciate your hard work and the high-quality services you provide to millions of Minnesotans. It is precisely those Minnesotans, those services, and your ability to deliver them, for which I am negotiating.

I will continue to do everything I possibly can to reach a compromise and a balanced budget agreement in time to avert a shutdown. I believe that you – and everyone in our state government – provide very important services to Minnesotans, and I will continue to defend you.

The last several weeks have been, and the next few weeks will be, extremely difficult for you and other state employees. I thank you. Like you, I look forward getting to resolving this crisis as soon as possible and moving ahead to our shared commitment to build a better Minnesota.

My best regards.

Sincerely,

Mark Dayton

Update 4:31 p.m. – The Minnesota Department of Health sent this memo around later today:

Speaker of the Minnesota House Kurt Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch today sent an e-mail to state employees about budget negotiations and the possibility of a government shutdown. We have heard from a number of employees who received it, but we also know that some did not. We believe it was intended to be sent to all state employees and that they did not choose to send it to only some. For those employees who have not yet received it, they may still get it.

The email was sent to publicly available email lists, and was not coordinated through the state’s central system. The Governor’s Office and the MDH incident Management Team are aware of the e-mails. We know that some of employees have asked whether they should do anything in response to the message. We are not advising any particular action.

You can view the letter at http://minnesota.publicradio.org/collections/special/columns/news_cut/archive/2011/06/silent_before_microphones_legi.shtml.

Update 4:44 p.m. MAPE, the professional employees union, has sent this news release:

“Today State Representative Kurt Zellers and State Senator Amy Koch sent out what many of our members have termed an inappropriate, ‘political’ letter to state employees. Speaker Zellers, do you not remember that it was Representative Keith Downey, a member of your caucus, who said that when it came to the state workforce, it is important to ‘starve the beast?’

Do you both not remember that throughout the recent legislative session, your members, in both houses, continually attacked hard-working, dedicated state employees by authoring and passing bills that cut state employees’ jobs, wages, healthcare and pensions?

We support Governor Dayton – and do not trust what tricks your party will pull during a legislative session. Leadership is about compromise and fairness for the common good, not ideology that allows the rich to get richer. You are jeopardizing our members’ livelihoods and financial well being by not compromising with Governor Dayton.

Senator Koch and Representative Zellers, make no mistake about it – our members believe to their core that the budget impasse and upcoming shutdown rest squarely on your shoulders. It is troubling that you would choose to harm the middle class rather than have the wealthy pay their fair share in taxes. Meet with the Governor and get the job done, don’t waste time on insincere and insulting letters.

As an aside, we would also like to know how you got the emails of the state workforce to spam them, and why it appears that the email address it was sent from has bounced back responses from our members.”

  • David G

    The tone between the two letters is amazing.

  • Rick

    I would agree with David G on this. The tone is completely different. Being someone working in government, it appears that the finger pointing is being done by the speaker and majority leader while Dayton’s letter is more of a thank you for for service.

    My (obvious leaning) opinion is the hostage is being taken by the House and Senate as their “moves” that they have made seem to not really meet in the middle but just continue the practice of shifting the money around to make things look nicer. Fortunately for the elected officials in these groups, everyone who wants to will still receive their pay checks while the state employees will lose their paychecks for the foreseeable future. I wonder what would happen if you force all state employees to lose their salary, including the house and senate how much faster this would be negotiated.

  • Jessica

    Interestingly enough I am a state worker and did not receive the email from Mr. Zellers. However, a county employee in my office did. Guess I am not a “valued state employee” The tone of the second letter is extremely negative…

  • It seems like it was just last January when GOP Legislators were comparing state employees to thugs, and worse.

    Wait – it WAS just last January when GOP Legislators were comparing state employees to thugs, and worse.

    What’s changed?

    The GOP is losing the battle for the hearts and minds of the majority of Minnesotans – so they callously figure it’s time to change their facade.

    I’m not fooled.

  • Rob

    When you don’t have either the facts or the law, bang the table.

  • BR

    Chalk me up as another state employee who did not receive this letter. Thankfully so, as I don’t need or want grade school level blame games in my work inbox. Come to a compromise and get it done. I don’t care about this he said/she said nonsense.

  • JA

    Lucky me to be one of the 50% percent in my office to receive the GOP email. Sorry but one mass email doesn’t make me feel valued after having my work ethic, pay, healthcare, and ability to feed and house my family attacked all session. I don’t believe for a moment that the GOP wants state employees to keep getting paychecks beyond June 30 when they’ve made it painfully obvious that they’d be happy for me never to receive a paycheck as a state employee again.

  • BJ

    Interesting I also noticed that dayton doesn’t seem to blame anyone for the shut down.

  • SD

    If you want to take the “sitting around the kitchen table discussing the budget” analogy further, does it make sense to have one member of the household, who has perhaps benefitted from a large increase in recent income, to say, ‘yeah, I know little Bessie needs new shoes and little Johnnie has some doctor bills, but ya’ know, I just don’t want to contribute 2% more…so sorry!’ Oh, yeah, that’s where Republicans draw the line…you aren’t part of MY family and I don’t care!

  • BS

    Don’t print my name or e-mail. I need a job to come back to!

    In my 15 years of state service, this is the first time I’ve been e-mailed such an opening partisan letter.

    The reason not everyone got the e-mail is because Zellers sent it in the middle of a workday. Thanks to TP’s costly e-mail consolidation, all state e-mail goes through a central hub at OET. The system is locked up. Zeller’s massive mid-day mailing has overloaded the bandwidth.

  • aj

    As a 16 year State Employee it has saddened me to explain to my children why at one point Mom was garbage to the GOP in the news for the last 6 months and now; I am a valued asset to the State. The GOP have certainly caused me to become involved. Involved to ensure that they are not re-elected to even dog catcher (since they would only blame the dog and then cut it’s food and water by 15%). My advice to my kids? Don’t work in government like half of your aunts, uncles, parents, and grandparents have. Service to your community is highly over-rated.

  • Jim B.

    I guess I’m in the minority who find neither the speaker/majority leader’s nor the governor’s letter overly partisan. Both seem to me to be attempts at some positive PR and stating matters from their perspective. In both cases my reaction is the same: words are nice, but you all just need to get your job done.

    I did, however, find the letter from the MAPE union extremely partisan, inappropriate, and in their words “insulting.”

  • Ralph Crammedin

    Before sending out provocative letters, Koch and Zellers should have them proofread by someone familiar with the English language. This letter insults our intelligence in more ways than one.

  • Annette

    “Dear Valued State Employee.” Actions speak louder than words and this letter starts out with a big lie. The actions of these two “leaders” and their followers have sent a loud and clear message that those who happen to work for Minnesotans have far less value than ever before. My kitchen table sits in my small eat-in kitchen of my 840 square foot home. I wonder what size kitchen these two letter writers go home to? Having the wealthiest 2% pay their FAIR share in their home state will not break their bank or even cause them to break a sweat. Consider it an investment.

  • Jamie

    Koch & Zeller’s e-mail is outrageous, for all the reasons everyone else has already stated.

    I found AFSCME’s response (which doesn’t but should have mentioned the Republican legislator who suggested that baby monitors could take the place of personal care assistants):

    Dear AFSCME Council 5 Brothers and Sisters who work for the State of Minnesota,

    You received an email today from Majority Leader Koch and Speaker Zellers. Let us set the record straight. Here’s what they didn’t tell you.

    If Koch and Zellers get their way, our members will get PERMANENT PINK SLIPS, not paychecks.

    For the last five months Koch and Zellers’ majority caucuses have demonized public workers, particularly state workers. Their budget permanently eliminates 5000 jobs in state service. On top of that, they also propose draconian cuts to agencies and human services. So they may call us “valued state employees,” but they want to dispose of thousands of us like trash.

    Koch and Zellers’ budget seriously cuts the state health plan (SEGIP) and will result in unaffordable cost shifts to every state employee.

    Koch and Zellers’ budget withholds 5 percent of your pay and says you only get it back as “performance pay.” If your boss doesn’t like you, it’s a $1,900 pay cut for the average AFSCME member who earns $38,000 a year.

    If Koch and Zellers have their way with us, the average AFSCME state employee who still has a job would qualify for food stamps. But, slashing our wages and our health care isn’t enough for them. They also want to take away our right to bargain wages and health care. That’s how Governor Scott Walker is busting unions in Wisconsin.

    Koch and Zellers’ budget promotes privatization of state services.

    Koch and Zellers slash public colleges and universities by $411 million. That means hundreds of layoffs, plus tuition hikes that make college unaffordable for children from working families.

    Koch and Zellers’ budget will increase property taxes on homeowners, renters and small businesses by more than $1 billion over the next four years.

    Koch and Zellers want us to forget that members of their caucus called us “beasts.” They want us to forget that their staff made a game out of our lives with a betting pool on how long the shutdown would last.

    Governor Dayton has a better solution: Tax the richest 2 percent to stop a shutdown and avoid risky cuts to public services.

    Governor Dayton has stood up for us time and time again because he values our services. He has compromised twice, while they refuse to compromise.

    WE ARE NOT BEASTS. WE ARE NOT STUPID. Tell Koch and Zellers to stop wasting time and tax the richest 2% to prevent a shutdown…

  • Jamie

    Not all of the paragraph breaks worked up there. Sorry.

    Just want to point out something nobody else mentioned about Koch’s & Zeller’s e-mail: I don’t see what they offered as substantive compromises. They were just shifting money from one place to another, creating even deeper cuts to some programs while giving a little more to others (and I believe they only did THAT so that they could claim they were “compromising”). A real compromise from them would be to offer additional revenue. And really, since Mark Dayton has been compromising since he first propsed his budget, they should meet his most recent compromise.

  • dumb

    The MAPE letter is the worst of all the letters and is a good example why people think so negatively upon public employees.

    MAPE has no business taking sides in politics, they should take the side of the people they are supposed to be representing and stick to negotiating a fair contract for the state workforce.