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.


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.


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

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.”