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Minn. state commissioners told to prepare for government shutdown

ST. PAUL - Minnesota state commissioners received marching orders this morning to prepare for a state government shutdown on July 1.

However, Commissioner Jim Schowalter of Minnesota Management and Budget said the first priority remains trying to negotiate a deal for the next two-year budget.

The commissioner said this morning's meeting was designed to allow state officials to draw up "some consistent approach" for a potential shutdown.

Preparations for a shutdown are under way because Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republicans who control the Legislature have not agreed on a budget for the two years beginning July 1, other than for agriculture programs such as food inspections.

Lawmakers hit their midnight Monday adjournment deadline and went home. Dayton will call them back in session once he and legislative leaders reach a budget agreement.

Without a deal by July 1, much of state government will begin to close.

Parks, for instance, may not be available on the July 4 holiday weekend. While the Department of Public Safety likely would consider to deal with life-and-death situations, it may not be able to handle less important matters, Schowalter said.

Schowalter said that each agency is looking into what would need to be done even without a budget. He said the Dayton administration would go to the courts in mid-June if no budget deal is pending and ask for permission to keep things like prisons operating.

The courts must be involved because the state Constitution forbids state spending without specific legislative appropriations.

Among the few on-going activities that do not depend on regular legislative approval are payments to schools and tax collections. However, Schowalter said, while those activities remain requirements, it still must be decided if people will be on duty to fulfill those functions.

"It's business as usual," Revenue Commission Myron Frans said upon leaving the Cabinet meeting.

Other than looking at past shutdown plans, Frans said that he has done nothing to prepare for a 2011 shutdown. That changed with the Cabinet meeting.

There was a partial shutdown in 2005 when some major funding bills were not passed by July 1, but the Legislature and then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty agreed on funding for the parks in time for the holiday weekend.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.