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Government Shutdown Planning Begins
By Michael Khoo, Minnesota Public Radio
June 12, 2001
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Gov. Jesse Ventura's administration is expected to mail tens of thousands of notices to state employees, outlining plans for a potential government shutdown. With budget negotiations stalled at the state Capitol, agency heads are beginning to identify critical services that must be maintained even if spending bills aren't approved when the fiscal year closes at the end of the month.
"What we have here is a government shutdown, it will not be business as usual," according to Employee Relations Commissioner Julien Carter, who is leading the task force.

LAWMAKERS RETURNED TO ST. PAUL MONDAY for a brief special session -- but recessed without substantial action on any of the eight major funding bills or a tax bill. Gov. Ventura has appointed a "shutdown team" that is exploring options for operating state government on an emergency basis.

"What we have here is a government shutdown, it will not be business as usual," said Employee Relations Commissioner Julien Carter, who is leading the task force. "We will have to cover only those critical or core operations that we absolutely need to cover until this matter is resolved."

Carter says the state is sending out notices to all 53,000 state employees warning that non-critical workers could be placed on furlough beginning July 1st if a new budget isn't then in place. Carter says a shutdown would halt road repair and construction, close state parks, shutter motor vehicle bureaus, and could possible disrupt the issuance of welfare and unemployment benefits. He says the administration studying what essential functions the state could continue providing in the absence of legislative authority.

"Our team is coordinating quite closely with the attorney general's office. We're still exploring all options about what authority that we would have to continue critical operations, to incur debt, and to actually make payments as needed to keep those critical operations going," Carter says.

No one in Attorney General Mike Hatch's office was available to comment on the preparations, but Hatch did release a memorandum to the governor and legislative leaders meant to guide them in identifying core services.

Based largely on the 1995-96 federal government shutdown, the attorney general's indicates law enforcement, disaster services, and revenue collections could all continue. But many such activities, including prison oversight, may be cut back dramatically.

Corrections Commissioner Sheryl Ramstad Hvass says prison staffing could be cut by two-thirds. She says the reduction could mean roughly half of the state's 6,200 inmates might be locked-down 23 hours a day.

Gov. Jesse Ventura talked about the pending government shutdown with MPR's Cathy Wurzer. Listen to the interview.

Learn more about the potential shutdown at the state's Web site.
"Where we've prided ourselves on doing positive things to return people to the community as contributing members. And you don't do that by just locking them in their cells 23 hours a day, seven days a week. However, in dire circumstances where you don't have the ability to ensure staff and inmate safety, that's the alternative we're faced with," she says.

Local governments could also face disruptions in state aid payments, and their ability to prepare budgets is further complicated by the lack of a property tax bill. The Revenue Department is advising cities, counties, and school districts to begin preparing next year's tax statements based on current law, with the understanding that they may have to backtrack if the reforms sought by Ventura and House Republicans are ultimately approved.

Revenue Commissioner Matt Smith says the administration had expected to give local governments several weeks to digest any property tax reforms. "Now we've lost that," Smith says. "As time goes on, the property tax is going to be increasingly more costly and difficult and just uglier to administer for next year. And it's going to keep getting worse."

Smith says Monday was the last chance to ensure a smooth transition to a reformed property-tax system. He says if a deal is struck soon, the reforms could still be adopted, but not without additional costs and an increased chance for errors. If the impasse continues too long, he says property tax reforms could be all but impossible for next year.