Minnesota Capitol opens, first spending bills surfaceST. PAUL – Signs that the Minnesota government shutdown soon may end are surfacing, but work remains.
By: Don Davis, Alexandria Echo Press
ST. PAUL – Signs that the Minnesota government shutdown soon may end are surfacing, but work remains.
Governor Mark Dayton ordered the state Capitol to open again at 9 a.m. Tuesday and budget bills have begun to be posted online.
A Monday night statement from Dayton’s office said: “The governor ordered the doors opened to allow public access and transparency as the Legislature prepares to reconvene to pass a budget.”
There was no indication when Dayton could call a special legislative session to pass the two-year budget and end the shutdown.
Dayton and Republican legislative leaders also approved four bills that negotiators had worked out since Thursday.
The first two finished budget bills appeared online at mid-afternoon Monday.
Transportation, public safety and courts spending are outlined in the first bills and show minor changes from what had been proposed by Dayton and Republicans who control the Legislature.
Transportation spending would be $4.7 billion in the next two years, up slightly from what the Legislature and Dayton proposed. It also is up from $4.4 billion spent in the two years that ended June 30.
Another budget bill, spending $1.9 billion on public safety and the courts, showed little change from the Dayton and legislative plans.
Also posted online was the environment spending bill. Tentative agreements were reported on five of the nine budget bills Monday afternoon.
A bill funding a variety of outdoors, arts and culture programs, not part of the regular budget, also went online Monday night.
Part of government is shut down because Dayton and legislative leaders haven’t agreed on a new budget.
Bills are released to the public only after House, Senate and administration negotiators in each budget area come to an agreement; legislative staffers put the bills in the proper form; and Dayton, House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch read through them and agree they are ready.
Once the three leaders approve them, the bills are posted at www.house.leg.state.mn.us/ss2011.
Republican leaders say they have enough votes to pass a budget developed from a vague outline Dayton and Republican legislative leaders worked out Thursday, but there was some doubt if Senate Republicans were united.
“We young guns actually want to read the bills,” Senator Paul Gazelka, R-Brainerd, said.
Once the Legislature passes the bills, they will go to Dayton for his signature. When he signs them, state government gradually can begin to reopen.
Courts, the Legislature and some other offices have remained open during the shutdown, but 22,000 state employees are laid off.
Democrats who have talked about the budget deal generally criticize two forms of borrowing. First, the state basically borrows money from school districts by delaying $700 million of payments. Second, another $700 million would be borrowed, to be repaid by tobacco lawsuit proceeds in future years.
Gazelka said the budget agreement probably offers the most state government reform of any time in Minnesota history, including the beginning of slowing government growth.
It was impossible to learn what reform, policy or budget issues were in bills funding most of government since those involved in negotiations have been tight-lipped since Thursday.
The silent treatment state leaders are giving Minnesotans does not sit well with open-government advocate Rich Neumeister.
Deal making happens in the Capitol all the time, Neumeister wrote in his Open Secrets blog. “What’s different [is] there’s no public to see, watch, to ask questions and put two and two together.”
Legislators, staff, some Dayton administration officials and credentialed media were allowed in the Capitol during the shutdown, but the public and lobbyists were banned.
State leaders are pushing for a short special legislative session.
“It means that there is a big push to zip these bills through and that there will be changes of language, with shifts of money going from one program to another, language and money allocations in bills disappearing, possible new language being added and an array of legislative sleights of hand without any public scrutiny,” Neumeister wrote.
“From the small non-profit who worked on language in a specific area with funding, to the large corporate entity that wants less government regulation, all are interested where the money and resources go...But we are all locked out.”
On Monday, Judge Kathleen Gearin ruled that restaurants, liquor stores and bars must wait until after the shutdown to renew cards that allow them to buy alcoholic beverages. Hundreds of bars report they are running low on alcohol because their permission to buy it has expired.