A group of GOP senators outlined a plan Thursday that they say will prevent Minnesota’s government from ever undergoing a disastrous shutdown again, but it could hamper budget negotiations in the future.
Their proposal is based on failed 2006 legislation that former Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon (now the lieutenant governor) proposed after Minnesota’s eight-day partial shutdown in 2005. In order to avert a shutdown, the measure would allow current appropriations to continue into a new biennium if agreement between the Legislature and the executive branch can’t be reached by July 1 of a budget year.
As the law stands now — demonstrated by the shutdown that ended Thursday — many government functions cease if an accord can’t be reached and Minnesota’s courts are forced to determine which “essential” state services can continue.
“I think I can sum up most of my comments in two words: ‘Never again,’” Sen. Paul Gazelka, one of the lawmakers signed onto the proposal, said of Minnesota’s most recent shutdown.
Gazelka and Sens. Ted Lillie and Ted Daley, who say they’ll introduce the bill early in the 2012 legislative session, are still planning what the legislation will look like. They intend to host public forums on the topic soon but haven’t discussed the measure with Gov. Mark Dayton or DFL legislators.
The most important thing is to never allow a shutdown to happen again, Daley said, because it’s horrible for entrepreneurs, citizens and state employees alike. He added that the shutdown has corrupted the national view of Minnesota as an inviting, steady place to move a business. “The shutdown has caused us to take it on the chin,” he said. “We want to restore confidence in Minnesota.”
In a recent discussion with Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin — one of 12 states to have comparable legislation in place — Lillie said the governor-next-door joked about Minnesota’s shutdown, saying, “We have a law that makes sure this will never happen.”
But in this extremely polarized political climate, opponents say allowing appropriations to continue into a future biennium takes all the pressure off budget negotiations and leaves little incentive to strike a deal. Such a law would also favor fiscal conservatives who support less state spending year over year.
Lillie, to a certain extent, agreed. “Politics have become more divisive, more challenging,” he said. When asked if he thought the legislation might hamper budget negotiations, he responded: “That is a possibility, that is a probability, but at the same time, look at the cost.”
Dayton seems to be in the camp opposed to such legislation. He repeatedly declined to pass a temporary “lights on” funding bill during the shutdown as budget negotiations dragged on and insisted that hard deadlines like the end of Minnesota’s fiscal year served to add gravity to the situation.
The senators are still in talks to see what the final bill might look like. It could fund state government at 80, 90 or 100 percent of the previous biennium’s appropriation, and it could come in the form of a constitutional amendment. They’ve discussed the measure with Sen. Mike Parry, chairman of the Senate State Government committee, where the bill will make its first stop in 2012.
“Honestly, we’re trying to take the politics out of this,” Lillie said. “The people of Minnesota deserve a system that works, a government that works.”