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- Created on Thursday, 16 June 2011 20:34
As we know the Minnesota State Government is facing a $5 billion deficit. Governor Mark Dayton is looking to increase taxes on the top two percent of wealthy Minnesotans and cut spending, while Republicans propose balancing the budget entirely with spending cuts. If a resolution is not reached by the end of the month, the government will shut down. What does that mean? It means that government services deemed not critical will be temporarily ended. Most recently, about 40,000 state employees got a taste of this threat as they received lay-off notices last Friday.
Dayton recently issued a statement outlining what services he deems critical when he asked a Ramsey Country District Court to keep more than one-third of state employees on the job to perform “critical services” (read a Star Tribune article here). At this time he also requested the court to appoint a mediator to try to broker a budget deal between him and the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Under Dayton's petition, most large state departments would remain open, although many would be reduced to only critical staff. On Monday, Attorney General Lori Swanson proposed that former Justice James Gilbert be named the court's "special master" to recommend which critical services continue if state government shuts down.
Dayton asserted 13,251 of the state's 35,800 executive branch employees should be kept on the job to protect public health and safety. The most critical employees, his petition said, are those who provide "basic custodial care for residents of state correctional facilities, regional treatment centers, nursing homes, veterans' homes and residential academies." For instance, the governor would keep 5,165 full-time equivalency positions at the Department of Human Services, which handles the state sex-offender program, and such other cash, food, and health-care assistance functions as Medicaid, General Assistance, MinnesotaCare, and the Minnesota Food Assistance Program. There are 46 boards and agencies that would close including the Human Rights Department, the state lottery, the racing commission and Explore Minnesota tourism.
A big concern is that the state parks will be closed over the 4th of July, but Dayton wants to keep 220 employees at the Department of Natural Resources. They include conservation officers who oversee fish and game regulations, workers who safeguard fish hatchery and tree nursery functions, and employees who maintain the mine at the Soudan Underground Mine State Park in northern Minnesota.
Ultimately, it will be up to the courts to decide what services are essential for the state. Let’s hope a compromise can be reached so these tough decisions don’t have to be made!
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