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Closing state government
By Michael Khoo, Minnesota Public Radio
June 21, 2001
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State agencies are taking the first concrete steps towards mothballing non-essential services in the event state government funding runs dry next month. Road construction and maintenance crews are expected to stop their work and begin securing construction zones in preparation for a potentially wider shutdown. Budget talks at the state Capitol continue to yield no breakthroughs in a tax-and-spending debate that has dragged on for more than a month, and some lawmakers are again considering fallback plans in case the impasse lasts through the weekend.
Employee Relations Commissioner Julien Carter briefs reporters on preparations for a possible government shutdown. Carter is the director of the administration's "Shutdown Team." In background are, left to right, Natural Resources Commissioner Allen Garber and Transportation Commissioner Elwyn Tinklenberg

MPR's Lorna Benson talks with Julien Carter, employee relations director for Minnesota, who is in charge of coordinating the shutdown of state government on July 1st if a budget agreement isn't reached. Listen to the interview.

TRANSPORTATION PROJECTS ARE AMONG THE MOST COMPLEX undertaken by the state, and they'll be the first to feel the impact of shutdown preparations. But Employee Relations commissioner Julien Carter, who's leading the state's shutdown task force, says other agencies will soon wind down in anticipation of a possible July 1st shutdown.

"The business of state government is complex; it is diverse; and it is not just as simple as turning off the light and locking a door. Many of the projects and resources have to be either secured or somehow wrapped up, worksites need to be made safe. And that will take time," according to Carter.

Carter and other administration officials emphasize they'll soon seek a court order to keep critical functions operating in the event of shutdown. Although about half of the state's 53,000 employees could be idled, Carter says public health and safety won't be compromised and checks would still flow for child care, unemployment, and welfare benefits. State parks, however, would close, as would motor-vehicle bureaus and other licensing and inspection programs.

Sensing the tight timetable for action, Senate DFLers say they're prepared to pass emergency funding bills to avert a shutdown by the beginning of next week. Senate President Don Samuelson of Brainerd says the so-called "lights-on" approach would probably not even include an inflationary adjustment. "We need to get something in place. So if we were to pass something like that on Monday or Tuesday in the Senate, give the House an opportunity to mull it over and decide what they want to do. Then obviously the governor, if he wishes to sign a bill like that. At least we're being prepared. We'll be ready to go," Samuelson says.

Samuelson says the Senate's first preference is to pass a comprehensive budget deal. But if that proves elusive, he says it's the Legislature's responsibility to pass some funding measures. But House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty says GOP leaders will hold out for a property-tax reform bill as well. He warns Democrats not to count on a bare-bones approach as a fallback. "Lights-on isn't acceptable to us. And it basically is going to be a signal to us that if they do that and adjourn, it's going to be government shutdown. So they need to know if they do that it will not be acceptable to the House and they're going to be forcing a government shutdown."

Republican leaders, however, say they do feel a sense of urgency. House Speaker Steve Sviggum says if the deadlock spills into next week, there won't be enough time to process the bills, pass them, and deliver them to Gov. Ventura before the clock runs out. But a deal remains elusive. And in addition to the thorny property-tax and education-funding issues, disagreements over social policy have resurfaced.

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The health and human services funding bill contains two abortion provisions: one creating a 24-hour waiting period for women seeking the procedure and another denying family planning grants to groups that provide abortions or refer women for them. Sviggum says he expects to prevail on at least one of the two. "The House probably would not be able to honorably expect both. But my guess is then also in the same honor, the governor and the Senate should not expect both," Sviggum says.

Finance Commissioner Pam Wheelock, however, says the administration doesn't believe those policy provisions should be in a funding bill. "We're being very clear that we need to get a bill produced that we can sign. And that won't include a bill with that language. And we just need to recognize that," Wheelock says.

Lawmakers will meet again in floor sessions, but without a deal in hand they're likely to quickly recess.