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Will state's biggest employer give us biggest layoff ever?


Mark Sommerhauser of the St. Cloud Times reminds readers that shutting down the government, essentially over a dispute of excessive spending, will incur otherwise unnecessary costs. He writes: “One of Minnesota’s largest public employee unions says the state could be on the hook for as much as $50 million in payments to laid-off workers if state government shuts down. That’s according to the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees, which represents about 13,000 professional state workers. ... MAPE also predicts hefty costs to state coffers if Republicans who control the Legislature and Dayton, a DFLer, can’t reach terms by July 1. The potential payments to laid-off workers reportedly could include severance, accrued vacation and compensatory payments, according to Richard Kolodziejski, legislative affairs director for MAPE. Kolodziejski said the payments are stipulated under MAPE workers’ labor agreement with the state in the event that the workers are laid off. Similar stipulations are written into state agreements with other unions, he said.” This sounds like one for Scott Walker.

To hammer the point, Martin Moylan of MPR reports: “If Gov. Mark Dayton and the Legislature fail to agree on a state budget by June 30, it could lead to what would arguably be the largest single layoff in state history. State government is the largest single employer in Minnesota. There are about 35,000 employees working for various state agencies under the executive branch. That doesn't include some 4,000 people working in state courts and higher education. An exhaustive report produced by Minnesota Management and Budget sheds light on the state workforce. Last year, the total compensation of executive branch employees — including health and retirement benefits — amounted to $2.4 billion. That provides a significant kick to the state economy. But there's another way to look at that payroll, said Ed Lotterman, an economist at Augsburg College. ‘People who are skeptical about government would say, "Yes, but those same people, if they were working in the private sector, would be earning similar amounts of money and that would be adding to consumption and savings, also," '  Lotterman said. ‘And they would say the money wouldn't be coming out of taxpayers' pockets.' " Damn straight! Because McDonald's and Wal-Mart are “jobs providers,” you know.

If you like conspiracy theories, you always have to ask yourself who benefits most from some man-made calamity? In the case of Minnesota’s budget gridlock, the ad and television and newspaper industries will do quite well, thank you. Bob Von Sternberg’s Strib story today says: “Advocates for Gov. Mark Dayton's budget stand and Republican legislators' alternative have launched dueling ad campaigns that could end up costing $1 million or more. On Dayton's side, the liberal Alliance for a Better Minnesota is targeting a dozen GOP legislators with radio, cable TV and online ads, urging the lawmakers' constituents to prod their representatives to back the governor's plan to increase income taxes on the state's wealthiest residents. Taking counterpoint is the Coalition of Minnesota Businesses, which has been running print ads in 33 newspapers across the state that thank the 55 members of the House and Senate who resisted any tax increases to close the state's gaping budget deficit. The efforts are just the first volleys in what is expected to be a ferocious public relations effort to win over the hapless bystanders in all this budget wrangling: average Minnesotans.”

A non-scientific Strib poll on Gov. Dayton’s mediation idea was running 59 percent to 40 percent in favor as of mid-afternoon.

If nothing else will, this’ll keep the riffraff away. There is STILL a heap of dirty snow in St. Paul from our last … interminable, godawful, what-did-we-do-to-deserve-that winter. Richard Chin of the PiPress writes: “Despite the fact that it's June and the forecast calls for temperatures to climb close to 90 degrees today, you can still have a snowball fight (a really dirty snowball fight) and slide down a snow hill (a really short slide) right here in St. Paul. In the parking lot of the Sears store on Rice Street, a gigantic white hill rose during the winter as truckloads of snow were hauled from state parking lots around the Capitol. And it hasn't completely melted away. During the depths of the fourth-snowiest winter on record for the Twin Cities, the Sears Alps was a steep, jagged, 60-foot-tall heap of snow. It even became a bit of a tourist attraction, with people frequently stopping to marvel and take photographs of the mini-mountain with half-buried Christmas trees, orange traffic cones and wooden pallets sticking out of it. Today, the snow pile is a disgusting shadow of its former self — an icy mound a few feet high covered with dirt mixed with garbage, bits of concrete and the odd lost winter glove — melting away like the Wicked Witch of the West.”

Yesterday it was the (Wisconsin) guy filling balloons with acetylene gas — which then exploded, burning an 18-year-old girl. Today it’s this, via the AP: “A northern Wisconsin camp director is accused of videotaping young girls in the shower and stealing from the operation. The former executive director of Camp Fire USA in Oneida County, Jeremy Fadoul, is charged with two felonies that carry a maximum 13 years in prison upon conviction. Authorities say Fadoul linked the camp's bank account with a PayPal account and withdrew more than $40,000. Prosecutors say when investigators searched Fadoul's home they found videos on his computer which showed camp girls in the shower — some with bathing suits, some without.”

Needless to say, we do not want our great and glorious neighbors to the east to catch wind of this. Richard Chin (again) of the PiPress writes about the city’s second ... bar on wheels: “Is this town big enough for two pedal-powered rolling beer bars on wheels? We'll find out as the City Cycle squares off against the PedalPub cruising down Grand Avenue at about 5 mph this summer trying to capture the movable bar-hopping, team-building, bachelorette-party business in St. Paul. The first pedal-driven multiseat vehicle with a bar, keg and a beer tap was originally developed in Holland and brought to the United States in 2007 by a couple of Twin Cities entrepreneurs, Al Boyce and Eric Olson. They set up a business called PedalPub, giving tours on their 16-passenger vehicle in the Twin Cities and importing the Dutch design to sell to tour companies in other cities. Boyce and Olson also got a change in the Minnesota law allowing beer consumption by passengers in a pedal-driven vehicle powered by five or more people.”

Film-as-art lovers have been anticipating “Tree of Life,” from enigmatic filmmaker Terrence Malick for years. It opens today, with Bill Pohlad’s named attached as producer. Euen Kerr of MPR interviewed actress Jessica Chastain and writes: “Pohlad's controversial new film "The Tree of Life" opens in Minnesota this weekend. It recently won the prestigious Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and drew raves from some critics. Others found it mystifying and even pretentious. ... To prepare for her role, Malick had Chastain [study] paintings of the Madonna at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. He also had her listen to the early work of Lauren Bacall to learn how to speak in measured tones. She also meditated and read extensively about states of grace. Chastain said making ‘The Tree of Life’ was draining, but is grateful for the experience. And she credits producer Pohlad for the chance. ‘He is such a smart, intelligent, passionate person about cinema,’ she said. ‘And he kind of went out on a limb and put me in this film — of course, along with Terrence Malick.’ Pohlad, son of the late Twins owner Carl Pohlad, has a string of hits to his name, including ‘Brokeback Mountain’ and ‘Into the Wild.’ While ‘The Tree of Life’ has drawn critical acclaim and some notoriety, it now faces the real test at the box office. Chastain said she likes that it's the kind of a movie that sparks debate. ‘You either love them or you hate them, and it's not just this kind of lukewarm, 'Oh, I had a hard day at work, I'm going to go home and watch 'The Tree of Life,'  she smiled. ‘This film absolutely requires that you walk in with an open heart and an open mind and participate in the movie experience.' " In other words, the anti-”Transformers 3.”

The state GOP’s inability/unwillingness to reimburse several Minnesota counties a paltry $3000 for expenses  related to the Tom Emmer recount last fall is  pretty snicker-inducing. MnPublius blogger Jeff Rosenberg rips away, saying: “The next time you hear Senate GOP Communications Director Michael Brodkorb talk about the irresponsible spending going on in state government, ask him why the Minnesota Republican Party (of which he is Deputy Chair) refuses to pay its debts. At least the county governments have learned their lessons: never trust a Republican. Some counties asked the party for money up front, she said, which is ‘probably what we’ll have to do in the future.’ [Winona County auditor treasurer Sue] Rivers said she would also likely charge up front for future requests.” And considering the rampant voter fraud afoot in the state, you know she’ll be asked again.

RIP, Marshal Dillon. James Arness, the Minneapolis native who kept law and order in Dodge City for 20 years in the legendary "Gunsmoke" TV series, died today. He was 88.

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Comments (10)

Regarding the potential layoff of 35,000 state government workers, our Republican friends, (who constantly complain that we need to run government "like a business" without ever realizing that raising taxes is, for government, the functional equivalent of the oil companies hiking gasoline prices to the moon, except that raising taxes helps the general public rather than padding the pockets of a few already fabulously wealthy oil executives),...

...the Republicans seem to be making the mistake of believing that what happens in business WILL happen in government - that the CEO who lays off large numbers of people generally sees his or her compensation take a massive jump upward, because by the dictates of Wall Street, laying off employees is ALWAYS good (the perfect company in the eyes of stock analysts being one with no regular employees except for a very highly compensated executive team).

Meanwhile, the CEO who ordered those layoffs skips out with the help of a massive golden parachute as the company goes belly up being unable to perform its core functions because of those massive layoffs.

What they don't realize is that Tim Pawlenty ALREADY pulled that scam and our current crop of Republicans legislators are, in effect, the people left behind to pick up the pieces when their company went belly up - you know, like the faithful employees who stuck it out until the end at Enron, for instance.

Regarding the state GOP's refusal to fork over the $3,000 total they owe several different counties in the form of recount expenses,...

once again we see the cheap and chiseling nature of the current leadership of the state GOP (or, perhaps, just their dysfonic hatred of and resentment toward government in any form)

and once again, I'm forced to raise, in response to all these issues, the question: WHAT is wrong with these people and those who support them?

Ed Lotterman is the smartest economist in the state. And if you don't believe that, just ask him.

Why in the world is our largerst employer our government? Does anyone else see the falicy and unsastainability in this scenario?

Lotterman seems to be quoting what opponents of government spending would be saying. He surely understands that those laid off government employees would not find jobs in a private sector incapable of creating jobs as it is.

"Why in the world is our largerst employer our government? Does anyone else see the falicy and unsastainability in this scenario?" - Mike Jost

Um, no. In terms of state workers per capita, Minnesota ranks tenth smallest in the nation. Check it out:

That means 39 states have more workers per capita than Minnesota. Of course, there are some that have even fewer, Mississippi perhaps. If you'd rather live in such a small government paradise, by all means pack your bags, but I suspect you'll find that government is often the largest employer in those places as well. It's not unusual for state government to be the largest employer in any state. In Minnesota, for example, there is no company that approaches having 35,000 employees. There's no issue here.

"There are about 35,000 employees working for various state agencies under the executive branch. That doesn't include some 4,000 people working in state courts and higher education"

Twin Cities Business Daily found closer to 55,000 employed by the state of Minnesota, 45,000 by MNSCU, and 25,000 by the University of Minnesota. And don't forget they 32,000 Minnesotans that work for the federal government. MPR fact checked those numbers themselves.

The more Dayton talks about how painful a government shutdown will be, the more the average person will realize just who ridiculously large government is.

The government is us.
A complex society requires a lot of work to maintain its infrastructure, so we pay people to do it. Would you rather go out and repair roads yourself?
Of course, the government could subcontract the work to private businesses ('outsourcing'), and increasingly it does this.
However, this increases government spending by adding an extra layer of profit (business owners and stockholders) to the process.

@Will Lynott: I've found Mr. Lotterman to be a fairly objective columnist, who takes pains to point out where economists take positions different from his own.

@Mike Jost: Perhaps because those companies which were once our largest employers have 'outsourced' their production to other states and nations, in pursuit of higher profits. Currently, about 2.76 million people are employed in Minnesota. If state employees total 35,000, that's 1.2% of those employed in the state, or roughly one for every one hundred workers. You can argue that this is too high a ratio but if you do, perhaps you can tell us what a proper ratio would be and what government activities we should either reduce or eliminate, in your opinion.

Answer some very specific questions. What don't you want as a society?
Good education?
Clean safe water?
Clean rivers and lakes?
State parks?
Safe functional roads?
Secure prisons?
Which of these do you think is free?
It is easy to P&M a whole lot harder to actually go out and address the issue.
Is 35K to big a number maybe?
Is $25-$50Mil to big a number to pay a baseball-basketball player every year? In my world yes, especially when the tax payer subsidizes their play ground.

James Hamilton #8; You're welcome your opinion of Ed Lotterman. I simply don't share it. His use, above, of the standard Faux noise gambit of saying "some say this" and "some say that" is not quoting other economists. If he were, he would name them. It's a strawman he raises in order to "support" his own preconceived notions. I don't call that "fairly unbiased."

More to the point, even if it was, its nonsense. There are no other similar jobs out there for the simple reason that no one is hiring. It's a feverish theoretical fantasy that has no counterpart in the real world.

Dave Thul #6: the academic positions you cite are a wash--all states have them to some degree. What 39 of those states do not have is the 10th leanest state employee workforce that Minnesota has. The academics are not properly thought of as state workers anyway, because they have other sources of income that the state does not have, such as endowments, student tuition, and other donations.

Since they're a wash, they have no real bearing on a state's ranking regarding the size of the workforce. Minnesota still has one of the smallest workforces in the nation. That remains true even if you count local government workers, as MPR has noted.

Finally, your allegation that Dayton's description of the pain a shutdown will cause people to conclude that government is too big is nuts. What people will instead see from that is just how important state government is in their lives, and it will make them wonder how they and the state will function if the republicans are allowed to move ahead with their scorched earth worldview. Like it or not, Minnesotans are rather pleased with the quality of life their taxes provide, and they won't give it up easily, especially when they find that the republicans want to slash it solely because they want to protect their rich friends from a minimal tax increase they can more than afford.

Those who don't like it here always have the option of moving to a low tax, small government paradise like Mississippi. Last time I looked, few were availing themselves of the opportunity. Although if they did, I'd be more than happy to help them pack.