Minnesota residents vent at politicians over shutdown

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 12, 2011 4:28 PM
Minnesota residents vent at politicians over shutdown

By David Bailey

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - Minnesota residents vented frustration at political leaders on Tuesday as the longest state government shutdown in recent U.S. history plowed deep into its second week with no new talks scheduled.

Democratic Governor Mark Dayton stepped out of the capital on Tuesday, joining a discussion on special education funding at a high school in St. Cloud northwest of the Twin Cities that was attended by several Republican state lawmakers.

The first of several planned meetings the governor has outside the Twin Cities this week ended with more than 20 minutes of residents urging an end to the 12-day-old shutdown.

"Where is your conscience," Anthony Akubue, a St. Cloud State University environmental and technological studies professor, told the lawmakers.

"It's not about you, it is about us who sent you there," said Akubue, who said empty speeches or rhetoric did not sit well with him. "It's not about you. We sent you there."

Other residents said it was "unacceptable" that a shutdown could continue for a month or more and they were appalled at the lack of time spent in top level negotiations.

One woman told Dayton it was more important that people get back to work than which side would win the budget battle.

Minnesota's new fiscal year began on July 1 without a budget deal to close a projected $5 billion two-year deficit, leading to the second state government shutdown in six years.

The issues driving the impasse in Minnesota are similar to differences raised in Washington during negotiations over the debt ceiling and over budgets in other states. Still, Minnesota is the only state where the government has shut down.

Dayton has proposed an array of tax or revenue increases under a budget about $1.4 billion higher than a Republican proposal that seeks to hold back spending. Several policy gaps remain, especially in education and health spending.

Those positions have not changed significantly since the start of the shutdown and Dayton, Republican House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch have not met in top level private talks in nearly a week.

"I feel emboldened to hold my ground from all the support I have received from around Minnesota. At the same time I want to get this resolved as quickly as possible in the best interest of all the people of Minnesota," Dayton told reporters.

Republican lawmakers said no added revenue was needed.

"Minnesota's economy is not going off like a rocket ship right now and if we don't deal with that reality we are not going to be able to meet the needs of the future," Republican state Representative Steve Gottwalt told reporters.

The lack of progress on the budget and the failure to address structural deficits prompted Fitch Ratings last week to strip Minnesota's AAA debt rating.

Some political scientists have said the shutdown could run possibly to the Minnesota State Fair that starts on August 25, or beyond. The fair is not threatened by the shutdown.

With only critical state government functions permitted during the shutdown, economists expect the economic drag on Minnesota to grow as it continues, starting with the more than 22,000 state workers who have been furloughed.

The suspension of state road construction projects and other services has added thousands of temporary job losses and a growing list of businesses and groups have asked the state court for relief from the shutdown.

The St. Paul Port Authority received court approval for a dredge project to clear silt that threatened to block a barge terminal on the Mississippi River.

Owners of bars, liquor stores and restaurants whose permits to buy alcohol have or will soon expire also have sought court relief, saying they may have to close within days if they cannot purchase inventory.

(Reporting by David Bailey and Greg McCune)