Conservation Minnesota

John Tuma’s Blog

This month of June Minnesota is on the precipice of its second state government shutdown as a result of the Governor and the Legislature failing to reach an agreement on a state budget. The first time Minnesota experienced a government shutdown was in 2005. Unfortunately, it appears our legislative leaders have learned little from past experience.

“I’d like to say I’m sorry to the people of Minnesota, this is disgusting.”
State Rep. Rod Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake)
July 1, 2005

The battle lines in 2005 were drawn between Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty along with the Republican majority in the House of Representatives against the DFL-controlled Senate. Pawlenty sought to hold a lid on government growth and provide tax relief. The DFL proposed expansion in K-12 funding and Health and Human Services by increasing taxes on the wealthiest Minnesotans. One of the funding proposals in the mix was an environmental initiative known as the Clean Water Legacy. This program would fund testing of all Minnesota lakes and rivers within the next decade and put in place efforts to clean up Minnesota’s dirtiest of those lakes and rivers.

Pawlenty made what some observers considered a tactical error by calling the Legislature back into special session almost immediately after negotiations failed in May at the end of the regular session. The governor blasted the DFL Senate by saying “I am stunned by the naked cynicism… when it came to crunch time, they left. When the services Minnesotans rely on to meet their needs and help them, when the jobs of the state employees were on the line, the Democrats turned and left tonight, when the people needed them the most.”

To minimize the pain of the government shutdown at the end of fiscal year on June 30, the Legislature passed a temporary funding measure keeping state parks open for the coming Fourth of July weekend. There were a few major funding bills that did pass in the regular session including funding for the state troopers and prison guards. Nonetheless, on July 1, nearly 9000 state workers were laid off as our state government stumbled into a shutdown. Rest areas closed, no new state driver’s licenses were issued, payments to local hospitals ceased and no new applications for state health insurance were accepted.

Finally after a bruising nine days of government shutdown, the DFL Senate and the Governor agreed to a framework for a compromise. They quickly passed a temporary funding bill upon agreement while they worked out the final details. The final agreement called for the Democrats to drop their demand for a tax on the highest earners in exchange for a 75-cent-a-pack tobacco tax increase, some minor property tax increases, and closing some abused tax shelters. Schools received a 4 percent increase in funding and the governor received his new pilot program for paying teachers on merit which he dubbed “Q comp.”

If the elections in 2006 were any indicator of who took the blame for the government shutdown it appears that the Republicans came out the worse for the wear. Pawlenty did survive a close three-way election between DFL Attorney General Mike Hatch who melted down in the last week of the election and an Independence party candidate, who is a former DFL congressman. As a result, Pawlenty only won by a plurality. The House of Representatives swung back to DFL control after eight years of a Republican majority, and the Senate DFL also picked up several seats to solidify their majority.

The big news this week in 2011is pink slips are going to state workers in anticipation of another possible government shutdown due to a lack of agreement between the now DFL Governor Mark Dayton and the Republican-controlled legislature. The question is whether they will learn their lesson from 2005. The lesson then veteran Speaker of the House Steve Sviggum predicted on the eve of the government shutdown in 2005 was, “It institutionalizes gridlock. . . and what it does is it delays a week or 30 days or 60 days the exact same decisions that we have before us right now.”

By the way, that Clean Water Legacy proposal didn’t quite make it in 2005. We had to wait until the voters spoke clearly in 2008 to fully fund the Clean Water Legacy in our State Constitution.

*All quotes courtesy of the 2005 coverage of the legislative session by Minnesota Public Radio.

About John Tuma

John Tuma
John is a former state legislator and litigation attorney. He served in the Minnesota House of Representatives for eight years from the Northfield area, beginning in 1994. Elected as a Republican, John was known for his independent thinking and ability to work across party lines. He is well-known in Minnesota state government circles.
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