Looking tired Rep. Ernie Leidiger talked with Rep Doug Wardlow on the House floor at the state capitol with hours left until a government shutdown. (AP Photo Kyndell Harkness - STAR TRIBUNE)
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) With Minnesota’s state government closed for business, the focus shifted Friday to who’s to blame. The shutdown started at 12:01 a.m. Friday, the product of an ongoing dispute over taxes and spending between Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative majorities. Talks fell apart well before the deadline, leaving state parks closed on the brink of the Fourth of July weekend, putting road projects at a standstill and forcing thousands of state worker layoffs. The heads of the state’s Republican and Democratic parties each say the other side is responsible. Minnesota GOP Chairman Tony Sutton called Dayton a “piece of work” and accused him of inflicting “maximum pain” for political reasons.
Michael Brodkorb, Senate Republican spokesman, gives an update to reporters outside the governor’s office. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party Chairman Ken Martin laid the blame on Republicans, saying they drove the state to a shutdown to protect millionaires from tax increases sought by Dayton. “Shame on you for putting the interests of your rich campaign donors ahead of the well-being of the constituents you are supposed to represent,” Martin said. The Alliance for a Better Minnesota, a left-leaning group supportive of Dayton, plans to run weekend radio ads in three popular vacation areas blaming Republicans for the impact of the shutdown, including closed state parks. The group also debuted a “shutdown shame” website. Though nearly all states are having severe budget problems this year, Minnesota stands as the only government to have shut down, thanks to Dayton’s determination to raise taxes on high-earners to close a $5 billion deficit and the Republican Legislature’s refusal to go along. The shutdown would be Minnesota’s second in six years as the partisan divide deepens.
Hundreds of demonstrators, including state worker Michelle Lewis, center, of Hastings, Minn., hold a candlelight vigil (using glow sticks) outside the Minnesota State Capitol Thursday, June 30, 2011 (AP Photo/Genevieve Ross)
Even before the final failure, officials padlocked highway rest areas and state parks, herding campers out. The full impact will hit Friday morning as thousands of laid-off state employees stay home until further notice and a wide array of services are suspended. Critical functions such as state troopers, prison guards, the courts and disaster responses will continue. On Friday morning, former Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz will begin the court-appointed job of sifting through appeals from groups arguing in favor of continued government funding for particular programs. Even after the shutdown looked like a certainty, Dayton and Republicans did not soften their conflicting principles. Dayton said he campaigned and was elected on a promise not to make spending cuts to a level he called “draconian.” He said he has been more flexible than Republicans in trying to compromise in order to acknowledge their principles. “I’ve gone halfway, and I’m not going to go further,” Dayton said. Republicans have been equally firm. Republican Sen. Michelle Benson said earlier in the day she wouldn’t budge on raising taxes or new revenue in any form.
A demonstrator stood on the Minnesota Capitol rotunda balcony outside the House of Representatives Thursday, June 30, 2011 (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Dayton has proposed raising taxes on couples earning more than $300,000 and individuals making more than $180,000. He said Thursday night that he had offered to target the tax increase to even higher earners, those making more than $1 million a year. Republicans have opposed any new taxes or new revenue sources, arguing instead that the state should rely on spending cuts, including deeper reductions in health and welfare spending than Dayton is willing to accept. Some GOP moderates have talked of breaking the impasse with other means of raising revenue, such as eliminating tax breaks or authorizing a casino. Dayton has said he is open to such ideas. Lawmakers now face the prospect of spending the holiday weekend at parades and events in their districts, facing a public who can point to an oversized symbol of gridlock at the state Capitol. Some admitted that Dayton might have the upper hand politically. “I personally think the Republicans will probably be more damaged than the governor” by the shutdown, said freshman Rep. Mike LeMieur, R-Little Falls, who toppled an incumbent Democrat in November. “The fact is that we’re all up for re-election again next year, and he’s not up for three years.”
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