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GOP senator asks Dayton for ‘lights on’ bill to keep government open

Sen. Sean Nienow, one of four GOP senators whose court petition to force Gov.

Sen. Sean Nienow, one of four GOP senators whose court petition to force Gov. Mark Dayton to call a special legislative session failed Thursday, urged the governor in a letter Friday to consider a “lights on” measure that would prevent a state government shutdown July 1.

The plan, which would go into effect if Dayton and lawmakers can’t reach a deal by the end of the fiscal year, would come in the form of legislation continuing public safety funding at current levels and extending 90 percent of appropriations for all other budget areas.

“Even without a final budget agreement on July 1st, a government shutdown is not necessary,” Nienow wrote.

Dayton, however, opposes such a measure. He said Tuesday that time isn’t the issue in solving Minnesota’s $5 billion budget deficit and dodging a shutdown. It’s the ideological divide between himself and the GOP majority that is the problem, he said.

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Nienow used the letter as another opportunity to “implore” Dayton to call a special session to ease the effects of a shutdown.

He also included a veiled barb, writing that he tells state employees in danger of losing their jobs: “The only reason for Governor Dayton to not call a special session would be to use state services and state employees as political leverage. I choose to believe he won’t do that.”

Roughly 36,000 state employees could get pink slips if a shutdown can’t be avoided. Dayton and lawmakers have two-days of planned talks this weekend in an attempt to reach a budget deal before the fiscal year ends June 30.

Nienow urged Dayton to discuss the proposal during his talks with the GOP leaders, whom the senator says have shown “strong interest” in the measure.

In addition to continuing state services at near-current levels over the next biennium, Nienow’s legislation would block the courts from determining essential services, as happened during the 2005 government shutdown.