Republican lawmakers had gathered at the Capitol for hours, demanding that Dayton do what he had said for months he would not do: Call a special session so they could pass a “lights on” budget bill to keep the government running. The governor insisted he would not give up that leverage without a total budget solution that incorporated the many facets of state spending. The governor has sole power to call a special session, but once one starts, it’s lawmakers who will decide when to adjourn.
“I think the governor’s insistence that we pass a full budget is not going to be of much comfort to Minnesotans who are going to see delays on the highways because construction projects stop,” said Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo. “It’s not going to comfort people who can’t use our state parks, or who can’t get a driver’s license.”
Officials in state parks had already started herding out campers Thursday, saying it would have been too difficult in the dead of night. Also Thursday, people rushed to get driver’s and fishing licenses at offices and service centers that would be locked up by morning.
A stoppage in Minnesota also halts non-emergency road construction, shuts the state zoo and Capitol, and stops child-care assistance for the poor. More than 40 state boards and agencies expected to go dark.
The shutdown in retrospect was something of a slow-motion disaster, with a new Democratic governor and new Republican legislative majorities at odds for months over how to eliminate a $5 billion state budget deficit. Dayton has been determined to raise taxes on high-earners to close the deficit, while Republicans insisted that it be closed only by cuts to state spending.
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.
“If we don’t start taking a different approach to how we manage our government, we’re going to swing from one bad economic circumstance to another,” Benson said. “We can’t just keep throwing more money at government and hoping that makes things better.”
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.
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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