IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Minnesota averts government shutdown

Gov. Tim Pawlenty and legislative leaders reached a budget deal early Saturday to end the first partial government shutdown in state history.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Gov. Tim Pawlenty and legislative leaders reached a budget deal early Saturday to end the first partial government shutdown in state history.

“I’m pleased to announce agreement has been reached by the legislative leadership to put Minnesota back to work,” Pawlenty announced around 2 a.m.

The Legislature approved the deal, which is a temporary “lights on” measure to send 8,900 furloughed state employees back to work and an outline for the two-year budget. Pawlenty said he will sign the measure as soon as it reaches his desk.

The temporary plan restores funding for shuttered agencies at last year’s level until Thursday. Lawmakers now have until Wednesday night to hash out the final details of the two-year budget or risk another shutdown, although that’s considered unlikely.

Minnesota had never before had to suspend services because of a budget dispute. The last state government shutdown was in Tennessee in 2002.

Many states often miss their deadline for enacting new budgets. But Minnesota, unlike other states, has no law that automatically extends spending past the end of its fiscal year if a new budget is not approved.

The Democrats, who control the state Senate, had been locked in a standoff with Pawlenty, a Republican, and the GOP-controlled House over how much to spend on schools and health care and how to pay for it.

Both sides had said Friday that an agreement to end the six-week special session was close, but they were still hashing out disputes over reforms for public schools.

Nearly one-fifth of the state work force had been told to stay home and use either vacation time or go without pay as lawmakers hash out the budget. The shutdown also curtailed state-funded services ranging from new driver’s license applications to job counseling for refugees.

Still, in many ways, the shutdown’s effects were small. Essential services, such as the State Patrol and some health and welfare programs, continued operating. Partial budget bills kept other services going, and a last-minute deal kept state parks open.

But the failure to finalize a new $30 billion budget provoked widespread anger among Minnesotans, raising pressure on all sides to reach a deal.

“If you’re an incumbent — I don’t know who the good guys are and the bad guys are — you gotta go,” said Tom Grant, a sales manager from New Brighton. “Failure is not an option when it comes to looking out for the people of Minnesota.”

Pawlenty compared the timing of the deal — more than a week after the July 1 shutdown — to a parent waiting for a teenager coming home after curfew.

“I’m glad that they’re here safe, but I’m mad it’s late,” he said Saturday.