Skip to Content

Support MinnPost

Who stands to gain by a near-total shutdown of the Minnesota government?

Does either side in the current standoff have an incentive to push to the limit the Constitutional argument for a near-total shutdown of the Minnesota government?

I really don’t know, but the tea leaves, surprisingly, point to the Gov. Mark Dayton/DFL side as the one angling for a “hard” shutdown, if there must be a shutdown.

Yesterday’s post raised the  awkward constitutional question about whether the state judicial branch can authorize the executive branch to keep spending state money, in the name of keeping “core functions” going, without the legislative branch having appropriated the funds. If the answer is no, state money can’t be spent until it has been appropriated, and if Dayton and the Legislature can’t work out a budget deal before June 30, Minnesota could see a shutdown like never before.

As fascinating as the legal issue may be, there’s no use pretending it isn’t also a partisan question, at least in a case like the present where a DFL governor and a Repub-controlled Legislature have been unable to agree on how much Minnesota should spend and tax.

I find people in both parties making the strict constitutional argument. First it was Ryan Winkler of Golden Valley, a House DFLer and a lawyer, embracing the constitutional argument (quoted in yesterday’s post). Peter Wattson, Dayton’s chief counsel, has made both practical and legal arguments along the same lines in the past.

But yesterday, state Sen. Dave Thompson of Lakeville, a freshman, an attorney and a member of the Repub leadership team, also told me that “for those of us who believe the Constitution should be adhered to, I don’t see any room” for a court order for that would keep great chunks of the government running, as happened during the 2005 shutdown.

Thompson couldn’t find anything in the Constitution that would permit the courts or the governor to keep even the state corrections or law enforcement agencies running. He isn’t hoping for any such outcome, Thompson said, and he still believes a way will be found to avoid a shutdown. But “you have to stick with the Constitution when you don’t like what it says, just like you do when you like what it says.”

We may be dealing in oversimplifications here but, according to partisan stereotypes, Repubs tend to claim to be the party of strict constructionism on constitutional matters and the party that favors less government. The Dem stereotype  includes the idea that constitutions must evolve to keep up with changes in society, and a stronger belief in the importance of government. Plus, state government workers -- one of the groups sure to suffer in a “hard” shutdown – are a core DFL constituency. The government workers’ union, AFSCME, was an early, key and steadfast supporter of Dayton’s candidacy. DFLers have told me that they think the Repubs are counting on AFSCME to pressure Dayton to make a deal so AFSCME members won’t have to go too long without paychecks.

Party stereotypes
So, to me, the stereotypes nominate the Repubs as the party that would insist on strict compliance with the letter of the constitutional language and the DFL as the party that would be looking for ways to keep as much of the government as possible up and running.

Nonetheless, without any on-the-record quotes to back me up here, it does seem that Dayton/DFL is angling for a “hard” shutdown and perhaps gambling that public will blame the Repubs for it, thereby increasing the pressure on Repubs to move in Dayton’s direction on the existential no-new-taxes/tax-the-rich showdown.

Dayton is the one who decided that he wouldn’t sign any of the appropriation bills until a universal budget agreement was reached. In 2005, a much larger number of appropriation bills were signed into law as the shutdown approached, which took the state functions covered by those bills out of the picture for the shutdown. (Dayton has signed one budget bill, covering agriculture.)

Thompson said that Dayton could sign just a few bills, covering the most urgent life or death state functions, like corrections and state police, and the state wouldn’t have to wonder whether the prisons will close or the highways will go unpatrolled. He said the funding gap between Dayton and the Repubs is small on those functions.

It was also Dayton who said he wouldn’t sign a “lights on” bill that some Repubs wanted to pass in the last days of the legislative session. A bill like that would clarify that the most basic state functions would continue. One scenario that’s still out there is that the Legislature could be called into a one-day special session to pass such a bill before the July 1 shutdown date, although Dayton has said nothing publicly to discourage such talk.

If Dayton is indeed prepared to hold out for an all-or-nothing budget deal, it could be because he believes (and polls tend to support the idea) that the public is on his side on the basic question of whether some new taxes should be passed to avoid too much budget cutting.

Blaming GOP
By offering to meet the Repubs halfway on the new taxes question, Dayton has also successfully positioned himself as the more flexible of the two sides, which also positions him well in the “blame game.”

If the public is likely to blame the Repubs for causing the shutdown, a purely partisan political analysis supports the idea that a “hard” shutdown will increase the pressure on them to get off the absolute no-new-taxes line and make a deal.

Sen. Thompson pointed out that it’s the governor who keeps talking about and preparing for a shutdown. Repubs don’t even like to let the word “shutdown” cross their lips, he said.

But if there is a shutdown and it last long enough for the question of how much the Minnesota government can spend without appropriations reaches the state Supreme Court, we may get an updated understanding of what the Minnesota Constitution means when it says: “No money shall be paid out of the treasury of this state except in pursuance of an appropriation by law.”

Nobody knows how this turns out. I sure don’t.

Get MinnPost's top stories in your inbox

Related Tags:

Comments (23)

"Plus, state government workers -- one of the groups sure to suffer in a “hard” shutdown – are a core DFL constituency. The government workers’ union, AFSCME, was an early, key and steadfast supporter of Dayton’s candidacy. DFLers have told me that they think the Repubs are counting on AFSCME to pressure Dayton to make a deal so AFSCME members won’t have to go too long without paychecks".

Who's been saying this since the night of the elections. Moui! ME-ME-ME. Where do I get my crystal ball journalism card. Blink-Blink-Blink.
Let the blinking begain.

Great piece, both yesterday and today. You always ask good questions, do your research and take the longer point of view. Thanks.

We are governed by fools or worse, with each side angling for political advantage and both equally committed to extremist positions. Dayton's insistence on limiting revenue efforts to a new rate for higher income households has been a non-starter from day one. We're all in this and we should all bear the pain of finding a way out of it. The Republican party's insistence on "cuts only" is simply the flip side of this well-worn coin: let the lower and middle economic groups bear the brunt of the downturn in revenues.

From my perspective, neither side has made a compelling argument for its position. I'll give Dayton a few points for looking at both reduced spending and increased revenue, but darn few given his refusal to consider broader revenue measures.

Until both sides move away from the positions they've locked themselves into, there seems little point in even suggesting other options. Having said that: The situation in which we find ourselves is largely temporary, primarily the result of the near-collapse of our economy and the resulting decline in revenue. Permanent solutions to temporary problems are rarely prudent or, in the longer term, solutions at all.

With fewer than four weeks to a shutdown, it's time to consider temporary solutions. The most obvious is a surtax on all income taxes, individual and business, such as a 10% surcharge. (The number was pulled from a hat.) Chances are that a family paying $800 in state income tax can afford another $80 ($1.54/wk) and those paying $8,000 can afford another $800 ($15.40/wk). No, none of us will like it. But I suspect we'll like the results of a shutdown even less.

A similar surcharge can be placed on sales taxes, personal property taxes, and fees of all kinds paid to the state.

And yes, there is room for budget cuts, although not much after 8 years of Governor Pawlenty's reign. These, too, can be made temporary where reasonable to do so, to ensure that no program is permanently impaired or eliminated without the full consideration required and which cannot be given in the situation in which our 'leaders' have placed us.

The fact is that there are many ways to balance the budget. All that they require is a willingness to compromise on both sides. That, apparently, is too much to ask.

The Republican disconnect from reality is truly breathtaking. AFSCME doesn't not run the government, despite all the anti-union dystopic rhetoric from the Republicans. Everyone in the state government with the exception of the some parts of the Department of Agriculture is preparing to shut down, that's a fact. If Republicans think AFSCME is going to save them they're in for a very rude awakening, and they don't understand AFSCME. Unions know what the Republican agenda is, they've seen it in Wisconsin. They're not going to pick a fight with Dayton, and pressure him to accept a Republican agenda. Republicans don't seem to realize that they aren't the only ones in the world with principles.

Shut the state government down for 2 months and like magic, the budget is balanced.

$34 billion divided by 12 = savings of $2.8 billion per month. In two months, the $5 billion gap is gone. Magic.

Actually the idea that the Unions are going to pressure Dayton to accept the Republican budget is so ridiculous for so many reasons and just shows how out of touch so many Republicans are. The Republican budget calls for a 15% cut in all agency funding on top of a 15% cut in workforce. This comes after almost ten years of cuts that have already been enacted. What part of the collective bargaining part of collective bargaining is it you don't understand? Another problem with the union to the rescue idea is that it ignores a lot of very basic facts. The union contracts require a lay-off process which means that all accrued sick time and some vacation time must be paid off, and all laid off state employees can apply for unemployment benefits. Many Republican clearly didn't do their homework in many ways before they pushed the nuclear button here. I think the problem is that too many Republicans may have bought into their own BS.

The politics of all this is extremely relevant. In 2012 ALL members of the house and senate are up for election because of the 2010 census, so if either side takes a real *beating* politically here it could shape the state's government for two or four more years pretty immediately.

There seems to be some degree of intransigence on both sides, but far more on the right than on the left. It would be useful, in a way, if there WAS a “hard shutdown” of state government. Since the House has the purse strings, and I don’t see how Republicans can disavow their responsibility, since they control both the House and the Senate, the resultant mess would appear to be clearly on Republican shoulders.

Regardless of who wins the resultant propaganda war to lay blame for inconvenience and, perhaps, danger, voters who call themselves “conservative” would have to deal with the same level and kind of loss of services that typically falls only on the poor and neglected of society. They’re not going to like it much. The consequences of statewide inconvenience and danger might be felt at the ballot box in 2012 in unforgettable fashion, so this is pretty high-stakes political chess we’re dealing with.

I'm surprised no one has mentioned he party stereo-type of the Republican Party that actually is true: the party of the rich engaging in class warfare against the middle class. This was true in 1928, true in 1932 and it is true today. The Republican Party has no principles except protection and advancement of the interests of the wealthy elite.

If there is any group which is likely to prevent the budget impasse result in a "hard shutdown", it is the judiciary system. The Courts are not going to allow that lest they be forced to shut themselves down. Principles about "strict construction" don't apply when you are deciding whether to get your own paycheck.

Good article. What I want to know is how bad of a recession are we going to have when 40,000 jobs are lost on July 1st? And how many more are going to be lost starting on July 2nd?

The Republican's didn't apparently study the national lesson very well. Just as the Federal shutdown was laid at Congress's feet this will be laid at the legislature's.

Rich,

It's going to cost millions of dollars to shut the government down, and bills pile up in the meantime. The work that needs to be done doesn't go away during a shut down... the roads, schools, senior citizens, and veterans are still there when you come back. Shut downs don't save money, they actually more money than having kept the government running.

Small government ideologues only survive because they haven't seen a real shut down, they think government irrelevant. Big surprise waiting for you.

What kind of emergency powers does the state constitution allow for the executive branch? Only in the case of natural disasters? Just interested to know, given Gov. Floyd Olson's infamous threat to declare martial law to bring funding to relief programs during an impasse with the legislature in the 30s.

Does the phrase "Cutting your nose off in spite of your face" come to mind? What an idiotic predicament our law makers have cornered themselves into! Foolish pride and stubbornness will result in tremendous hardship on the most vulnerable and hard feelings for the rest of us. Pardon me if I don't say "hello" in church or the Fourth of July town parade, because I know you support the otherwise of the political aisle. We are dividing ourselves into two countries, not by north and south, but by red & blue. What side will raise the white flag first? What will it take to understand this country is best served under one flag that is red, white, and blue?

From a large number of the public affected I see the August 15 "Circuit breaker" renters refunds. On cell phones at the "Ali" Aldi on Franklin Av. I have heard people talk of the "August money". The timing of this refund was planned around "back to school" spending. It's rent/taxes versus income so lower income people (read democratic constituency) will be affected the most. For most home owners the rebate comes in Mid-October. The logic is that it is in time for the second half-property taxes. Delayed payment may cause a hardship for some but delinquent property taxes (State of MN does not receive property tax money) means a modest late penalty. It takes several years unpaid taxes before the government takes action to seize the property for unpaid taxes.

For essential functions the courts may rule on a continuance of current funding, probably straight dollar. Don't forget that the state still has money coming in.

Our judges always seem to protect "welfare" from any "cuts" but the entitlement community will be rattled. They generally don't vote republican.

Road work contracts are "contracts" so ongoing ones will be completed and the state will still owe the money. Road projects not yet started might be cancelled but they tend to prioritize these. Not much affect and the biggie contracts like Light Rail aren't affected.

As for the furlough versus layoffs benefits payoff I actually may have set the precedent on this. I worked for Hennepin County. In the early 1980's I had a night shift computer job. With previous notice I attended a benifit for the blind black blues-man "Lazy Bill Lucas" at "Archies Bunker" on Washington Av. in Minneapolis. I made a point to drink no alcohol but got into work and hour and a half late. It went from shirtsleeve warm to four inches of snow when I was in the bar. I figured I would get essential work done then head home.

Basically I was "Shanghaied" to help keep the counties mainframe computer running with a staff that did have not relief. I was glad to help out but I was somewhat "snowed in" there. Hennepin County did not have a formal shutdown policy at the time. They paid the employees that could not make it in but we didn't get this because we were able to make it in. This was "hell" versus just heading home when the storm started so I was mad.

A week later they said they would give us a check for the eight hours they paid everyone else for not working. They also adopted a"real time work" policy where you could use sick or vacation time if the county is shut down.

They had weather emergencies in mind but it may apply here. If some "Progressive" claims a "hard shutdown" might involve immediate payment of all leave time this only involves employment termination. If the "chips are cashed" all seniority and rehire rights are forfeited. An employee must formally apply for this.

That said, under the Hennepin County system you could use/burn down accumulated leave time to keep getting a paycheck.

Basically if Governor Dayton and the lefties believe the general public will "revolt" from a "hard shutdown" they are wrong.

Bring it on! This could get "interesting"!

Gregory Lang #15, lots of misinformation there, so pay attention.

1. Re the property tax thing: the republican budget eliminates the renters credit. This would not be a minor "delinquent property taxes issue," but instead a permanent monetary loss to people who do not own property but must (through their rent payments) pay property taxes anyway.

2. Members of both parties have been overheard in the last few days citing the constitutional provision that the state may not spend money unless it's appropriated by the legislature. Doesn't matter if money is still coming in, the state can't spend it without at least some kind of "lights on" bill, which the Governor has said he won't sign. We'll see what the courts do with that if the issue comes before them, but that is what the constitution says, and a growing number of legislators and state managers are acknowledging it.

3. "Road work contracts are "contracts" so ongoing ones will be completed and the state will still owe the money." Wrong again. Every state contract contains a clause that payments will cease, and the state will not be liable for any work done, on the day after spending authority ceases, including when a biennium ends without a budget for the next one. Each contract requires the state to provide the contractor with 30 days' notice that this will happen if the legislative session has ended without an approved budget for the next biennium. Without a deal, a lot of contractors will be out of work on July 1.

4. State employees are being told they will be laid off starting July 1 if there is no budget agreement beforehand. They will not be allowed to use vacation or sick leave, but instead will be cashed out of both, pursuant to the union contracts. They will in fact be unemployed at that point, and will remain so until a budget is inevitably agreed to and they are called back. This will not result in loss of seniority or rehire rights. The contracts require that the state offer those laid off their old jobs back before it can hire new people. The state would not go directly to all new people anyway, for obvious reasons.

5. Your experiences in Hennepin County are irrelevant to the current situation in the state, although I find it interesting that you seem to be claiming that you got paid twice for the same shift.

6. "Basically if Governor Dayton and the lefties believe the general public will "revolt" from a "hard shutdown" they are wrong." Wishing will not make it so. You haven't made your case. Sorry to break your toy, but you shouldn't put stuff in writing unless you know what you're talking about.

Oh, and the fact that you find the kind of disruption and inconvenience this would cause Minnesotans "interesting" and your mindset is "bring it on" says a lot about you.

While the following probably can not solve the immediate problem, perhaps it is something that should be kept in mind to prevent this mess from plaguing us again.

----------------------------------

I think it's way past time that we shelve the specific dollar levels that existing and proposed government sponsored functions are awarded in favor of establishing an appropriate ratio share of our available government income to fund them.

That would confine the considerations and arguments to the specific community interests of the political factor that limits achieving better governance.

It would force the political parties to quit hiding behind anything they can find to obfuscate their true purpose of rewarding only those who have voted in favor of their election to power and thus their ability to misappropriate our available national treasure for their own selfish interests.

I suggest that a good start toward this objective would result from a journalistic review of a transformation of the appropriations legislation into such forma as would expose the priority of funding that the controlling political party has delivered as their claim to future power.

Let's expose our political animals for what they actually are.

When I did the "circuit breaker" property tax refund it was for last years "domicile". It had section for renters and homeowners with refunds payable in 2011. The Republican budget might indeed eliminate or reduce the renter's credit but that is for refunds payable in 2012.

If government goes into "hard shutdown" and Gov Dayton "sticks to his guns" the mid August 2010 renter credit could be delayed. The Republicans could have a "field day" on this one if they offer to pass interim funding but Gov Dayton says he will veto it.

Yeah! Sure! lower to middle income renters, who are the main recipient of the 2010 RENTAL YEAR credit and a "banking" on getting the refund in mid-August are going to think "I think it is "swell" that Governor Dayton is standing up against the radical, extremest Republican agenda even if it means my children will not outfitted with new stuff for school." ...... Ummm! I don't think so. There is only a couple of weeks between the expected refund (for 2010 rental) and the start of school.

This is the flash point that the Republicans should take advantage of. I talked to some renters about this. They tend to believe that a rent credit delayed is one they will never see. The Dayton veto depends on Democratic legislators sticking with Gov Dayton. The Democratic districts tend to have th most people who are planning on receiving the mid August 2011 rent credit/back to school checks.

I don't know the specifics of labor laws but states like California have shutdowns all the time. Lot's of precedent there.

As for getting paid twice by Hennepin County thirty years ago, true but the "always punt" management paid people for not coming in. They changed that to "real time" pay after they figured out their "troopers" who always make it in might not like working for "free".

Not sure the relevance to this.

The Republican party seems to continue down the path of greed with their no taxes for the rich, but cuts to every program that affects the middle class, the elderly and the poor.
Cutting medical aid to the disabled..Is this a new Christianity I haven't
heard of?
Dave Thomson and those that agree with him should be ashamed to show their faces in public..

Okay, Gregory #18, one more time, just for you:

The republicans want to ELIMINATE the renters credit. The Governor vetoed that. If you think people will abandon the man who wants to save it over a late rebate check I have a bridge in Brooklyn I want to talk to you about. Everybody has a credit card these days and they know they'll get the money eventually.

That won't happen anyway. The legislature can't act until the Governor calls them back into session, and he has made it clear that he won't do that until there is a global agreement. The latter will include no "interim funding" for anything, something else he has made clear. Everything will be agreed to ahead of time, and the Governor will call the legislature back solely to pass the agreement. Therefore, for the republicans to do as you suggest would require that they publicly break their word. Do you think they'll do that?

Oh, and California is California, not Minnesota. What happens out there is irrelevant to what happens here and sets no precedents for Minnesota. And, states (including California) are not having shutdowns "all the time." Where do you get such nonsense?

You're engaging in a lot of wishful thinking. Much as I can see that you want our Governor to fail, the scenario you sketch exists only in your own mind.

Here's what I want to know: Why does Will Lynott's comment here on Minnpost provide more useful and relevant information about the impending shutdown than any news outlet including Minnpost? This nuts and bolts description of what's happening, where, how, and why, would seem to be a basic story for any news organization covering the budget crises. I know people are afraid to talk about what's going to happen until the court rules but people aren't sitting around twiddling their thumbs here, stuff is happening, notification are being sent out, etc. This can all be reported without the use of a crystal ball.

Let's remove the mortgage interest deduction. Not only does it encourage excessive investment in homes, it encourages doing it with debt. Then we can deal with the subsidy to renters by removing that one as well....

Broadening the sales tax would be one of the better solutions to this tax and revenue problem. I'd rather just simplify the tax code and stop with all the spending cloaked as tax cuts.

If the Minnesota government shutdown occurs, it will cause tremendous disruption to so many families. It will not be forgotten come election time. So much for the Republicans being trusted to having control of both the Senate & the House. Never again.