Unions launch TV ads to support budget compromise, avoid shutdown

With a state government shutdown looming, Minnesota's public employee unions have launched a television advertising campaign to urge Republican legislators to support a budget compromise that would keep their members working.

About 36,000 state workers are expected to start getting layoff notices by the end of the week, and union leaders insist that far more Minnesotans will feel the economic impact of a shutdown.

There's no doubt where the state employee unions stand in the budget impasse. They're solidly behind Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and his proposal to raise income taxes on the state's top earners to soften budget cuts and help erase a projected $5 billion deficit.

Union leaders said their TV ad is aimed at convincing some Republicans to break ranks on the tax issue.

"This doesn't have to happen," union members tell viewers. "Tell your state legislators to tax the richest 2 percent."

"The impact on the communities is going to be everything from restaurants to grocery stores, all retail stores."

Eliot Seide, executive director of AFSCME Council 5, the largest state employee union, said the TV ad will run statewide through July 1, when a shutdown would begin. The total buy is $300,000, with on emphasis on several GOP districts.

Seide said the legislators who promised to grow jobs and boost the economy are now facing the largest layoff in state history.

"I want you to imagine for a second that this was a private sector company ... in Minnesota that was putting 36,000 people out of work," he said. "These same leaders in the Legislature would be on their knees begging that company to keep those people working."

Seide said a government shutdown will hurt an already fragile economy. Even the threat of a shutdown is affecting workers. Officials with AFSCME Council 5 and the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees recently sent their members a list of suggestions to prepare for a potential shutdown. They recommended setting aside some extra cash immediately, talking to creditors and delaying all major purchases.

Russel Raczkowski, an education advisor at Minneapolis Community and Technical College and a member of the professional employees union, said he's also ordered extra prescription drugs.

"There's great uncertainty in our household," Raczkowski said. "My wife is also a state employee. So, we're looking at total loss of income. She's a cancer survivor on maintenance drugs. So we're making sure we have all that and crossing our fingers."

Union officials predict a shutdown will hit more than state workers. Jim Monroe, executive director of the MAPE, said he thinks the ripples will reach hundreds of thousands of people throughout Minnesota.

"The impact on the communities is going to be everything from restaurants to grocery stores, all retail stores," Monroe said. "You're going to see that impact. It's equivalent to 1 percent of the state workforce disappearing on July 1."

State economist Tom Stinson is also looking at the short-term and long-term impact of idling government workers. He said state employees who have changed their spending behavior are already affecting parts of the private sector, including restaurants, resorts and entertainment venues.

But Stinson said the long-term effect remains ambiguous. He said it depends on the length of the shutdown, the total number of layoffs and the personal savings of those workers.

"State employees earn about $100 million per pay period, and you can imagine over those two weeks there'd be some drop in there," Stinson said. "But it wouldn't be as big as the full $100 million."

While union leaders were talking about their ad campaign, Republican leaders were meeting again with Dayton about the budget. There were no breakthroughs. But state Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, said he's convinced there's no need for a shutdown because the legislators can reach an agreement on a budget deal in June.

"We've got enough revenue. We don't need a tax increase, and I find it hard to even contemplate a shutdown," Michel said. "We should be spending much more of our time on the work on putting together a budget, and less of our time worrying about these July scenarios, because we should make sure they don't happen."

Still, Michel said he and his colleagues are sticking to their beliefs on the budget, and he doubts anyone will be influenced by some TV ads.

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