Minnesota Government Shuts Down Amid Budget Battle

State government offices in Minnesota are officially closed, and it has nothing to do with the July 4 holiday weekend.

Beginning at 12:01 a.m. Friday, all non-essential government offices are shut down indefinitely until a budget is approved. Democrat Governor Mark Dayton and Republican leaders in both the House and the Senate are deadlocked in a dispute over taxes and spending.

Although most states and the federal government have faced intense budget pressure, Minnesota is the only state to close down this year, sparking an intense debate over who’s to blame. Neither side is backing down.

Tony Sutton, Chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party, is accusing Dayton of inflicting “maximum pain” for political gain and referred to the governor as a “piece of work.”

Ken Martin, chairman of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, said Republicans were to blame for protecting millionaires from tax increases. “Shame on you for putting the interests of your rich campaign donors ahead of the well-being of the constituents you are supposed to represent,” Martin said, according to The Associated Press.

At the center of the debate is Governor Dayton’s determination to increase taxes on high-earners and the Republican controlled legislature’s refusal to go along, citing the need to cut spending as opposed to raising taxes. The shutdown will be the second for the state in six years.

Four other states – Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Tennessee – have had government shutdowns in some form within the past decade. Regardless of the reason, voters typically end up frustrated at both sides.

“Government shutdowns are most always about politics,” said Chris Clem, a former Tennessee legislator. “When Democrats tried to pass an income tax in Tennessee, they tried to bully Republicans into voting for it and then suspended some government functions. Thankfully, their strategy didn’t work but it did make the citizens mad. The fact is, governments never completely shut down because some functions like prisons and law enforcement are always necessary.”

Essential functions such as state troopers, prison guards, the courts and disaster responses will continue to operate. Other departments and groups are filing appeals for continued government funding, and former Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz has been appointed to handle those requests.

After a day of intense negotiations, Dayton addressed the shutdown shortly before the midnight deadline saying that both sides were still deeply split over proposed spending cuts and tax increases and that the shutdown was inevitable.

Republican lawmakers gathered at the Capitol on Thursday, demanding the governor make good on his promise to call the legislature into special session so they could pass a temporary or “light on” budget to keep the government running.

Dayton refused to honor his commitment, instead, demanding Republicans pass a budget that increased taxes. In Minnesota, the governor has the sole power to call a special session. However, once in session, lawmakers decide when to adjourn.

“I think the governor’s insistence that we pass a full budget is not going to be of much comfort to Minnesotans who are going to see delays on the highways because construction projects stop,” Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch (R-Buffalo) told AP. “It’s not going to comfort people who can’t use our state parks, or who can’t get a driver’s license.”

Dayton maintains he was elected on a promise not to make “draconian” spending cuts.

“I’ve gone halfway, and I’m not going to go any further,” Dayton said.

“If we don’t start taking a different approach to how we manage our government, we’re going to swing from one bad economic circumstance to another,” said Republican Senator Michelle Benson, citing her promise not to support a revenue increase of any kind, according to AP.

Lawmakers will undoubtedly hear from constituents over the holiday weekend while attending parades and events back in their districts. Dayton did say he was open to other forms of revenue such as eliminating tax breaks or authorizing casino gambling.

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