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Potential Minnesota government shutdown questions and answers

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ST. PAUL -- Questions and answers about the Minnesota state budget and a potential government shutdown:

What is the status of the budget?

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The current budget ends on June 30, so a new one is needed to fund state operations as of July 1. Article 11, Section 1 of the state Constitution says, "No money shall be paid out of the treasury of this state except in pursuance of an appropriation by law." If a new budget does not pass by July 1, much of state government could shut down.

What is being done to pass a budget?

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republicans who control the state House and Senate meet regularly, but little progress has been reported. Dayton wants to raise income taxes on the 2 percent of Minnesotans who earn the most, so the state can spend $35.8 billion in the next two years. Republicans say no tax increase is needed and the state does not need to spend more than $34 billion already scheduled to flow into the treasury.

Why are the Legislature and Dayton waiting so long to adopt a budget?

Quite simply, they do not agree on the overall spending level nor on how to spend within specific budget areas. Republicans passed their budget plans before the May 23 constitutional adjournment date, but Dayton vetoed them. Republicans do not have enough votes to override his vetoes. A special legislative session will be needed to pass a budget.

Are there any options other than to enact full two-year budgets?

There is talk about doing something like federal officials often do: Pass a bill extending the current budget for a short time while negotiations continue. Dayton and legislative leaders play down talk about that.

What is a government shutdown?

If lawmakers and the governor do not agree on a new budget, there would be no authorization to spend money beginning July 1 except for agriculture programs (Dayton and the Legislature already approved an ag funding bill). So most of state government probably would close.

Would all of government close?

No. Courts have ruled in the past that the state can continue to spend money on programs that protect Minnesotans' health and safety. If there is no budget deal soon, Attorney General Lori Swanson will ask the courts to establish a system to determine what programs, and thus what employees, are essential for health and safety.

How will courts decide what programs keep operating?

That is up to the courts. In the partial 2005 shutdown, a "special master" was appointed to determine essential programs, ones that would continue to receive funding. It is not known when the courts would get involved.

Would a shutdown save the state money?

Just the opposite. State officials say they have not estimated shutdown cost, but the figure likely would be in the millions to prepare to close government and then to restart operations. Among the costs would be severance pay to many of the nearly 60,000 state workers who could be affected. On top of that, those state workers, and probably private employees such as idled road construction workers, could draw state unemployment insurance.

What shutdown planning is going on?

The courts and legislative branches of government are making their own plans. Dayton's Minnesota Management and Budget office is coordinating most other agencies. Most agencies have finished their shutdown plans and submitted them to MMB, although the state will not make them public.

What are Minnesotans being told?

More than 40,000 unionized state and higher education workers have been told they could be laid off as of July 1. Some venders who provide the state services also have been told there may not be money to pay them. However, most individual Minnesotans, local government and others who receive money or services from the state have received no notification because state officials say agencies still are considering what actions to take. For instance, Minnesotans who receive health and welfare payments from the state have not been officially notified that their assistance could be interrupted, depending on what courts decide.

Where can I get more information?

Decisions still are being made, so good information is scarce. The state's official shutdown website is www.bereadymn.com. The Inter Faculty Organization, a university faculty union, posts information at ifo.org. State unions have sites at afscmemn.org and www.mape.org..

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