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Lights out for 'lights on'?
By Laura McCallum, Minnesota Public Radio
June 21, 2001
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Senate Democrats have introduced legislation to keep state government running if lawmakers fail to pass a new budget by July 1. House Republicans rejected the idea, along with a House DFL attempt to pass a sales-tax rebate. With the prospect of a government shutdown increasing by the day, the attorney general's office asked the courts to fund critical government functions if a shutdown occurs.

Dems push for sales tax rebate despite budget stalemate
DFL House Minority Leader Tom Pugh called on the House to pass a sales tax rebate plan. The GOP-controlled house rejected the plan.
(MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)
THE "LIGHTS-ON" BILL introduced in the Senate would fund government at current levels, plus a three-percent inflation increase. It contains no new initiatives and no property-tax reform. Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum of Kenyon says without permanent tax cuts, the plan is unacceptable.

Gov. Ventura says he too won't support "lights-on" legislation at this time because it includes spending but no tax cuts. Republican leaders say if Senate Democrats pass "lights-on" and adjourn over the objections of the House and the governor, they'll force a government shutdown.

Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, DFL-Erskine, says he doesn't buy that logic, and doesn't think the public will either. "If they know there's an option to keep government going, and any one of the entities chooses not to do that, it seems to me that they're the ones who are going to end up having the blame fall on them," said Moe.

While Moe's "lights-on" proposal doesn't contain permanent tax cuts, it does include a sales-tax rebate of this year's budget surplus. House DFLers tried to bring the rebate up for a vote on the House floor, but the attempt was rejected on a 66-58 party-line vote.

"It is, in fact, the people's money," said Minority Leader Tom Pugh of South St. Paul, who says the House, Senate and governor have agreed on the rebate. "Essentially everybody's agreed, at this point, to send it back. What we're saying is, since we have agreement on certain issues, let's take them up. Let's act."

House Republicans and Gov. Ventura have also sided in their opposition to passing the sales-tax rebate on its own; both say the rebate should be paired with permanent tax cuts. Speaker Sviggum says getting the rebate out the door takes some of the pressure off Democrats to agree on property-tax reform.

"People get a check in the mail in August, and all of a sudden they think everything was taken care of; that's not true," said Sviggum.

The House and Senate disagree on the structure of property-tax reform. Senate Democrats are holding out for changes that will minimize the shift in property-tax burden from businesses to homes. As the stalemate drags on, the state continues to plan for the possibility of a shutdown on July 1.

Deputy Attorney General Al Gilbert says his office has taken the unprecedented step of asking the state courts to fund critical state services such as those involving public health and safety. "This is not the preferred alternative to run state government, is to have a court decide what core functions should be operated and direct the commissioner of finance and the treasurer to pay state monies for that purpose. We still expect the Legislature and the governor to resolve this," he said.

A hearing on the matter is set for next Friday, the last working day before a government shutdown. Gilbert says the attorney general's office wanted to wait until the last possible moment to have the courts step in, in hopes that lawmakers and the governor will avert a shutdown by reaching agreement on a budget.

  • Closing state government
  • The tax debate: A delicate balance
  • Criticism of Ventura mounts as shutdown nears
  • Senate DFLers press Ventura on education funding