Swanson petitions for authority to continue core gov't services

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson
Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson in a file photo. On Monday, June 13, 2011, Swanson asked a district court judge for authority to continue funding core state services beyond July 1 in the event of a government shutdown.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

With just 18 days before a potential state government shutdown, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson has asked a district court judge for authority to continue funding core services beyond July 1.

Swanson said she filed a petition Monday in Ramsey County and expected a hearing soon.

The legal paperwork highlights a dozen core functions of government and the potential consequences of disrupted funding. The list includes guarding prison inmates and sex offenders, responding to outbreaks of disease, operating the State Patrol, collecting taxes and running programs for the poor, elderly and disabled.

Swanson said her petition starts the process, but it's up to a judge to determine which services are essential.

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"In the event that there is still a budget impasse and no state budget on July 1, we're asking the court to put in place an order that would protect the rights of men and women and children in Minnesota, and protect both their constitutional rights as well as their fundamental rights in terms of health and public safety issues," Swanson said.

Swanson said the petition is similar to documents filed in 2001, when lawmakers headed off a potential shutdown, and in 2005 when a partial shutdown lasted nine days. Another similarity with 2005 is that Swanson is requesting the appointment of a special master to hear additional claims.

"There were individual citizens who came forward, groups who came forward, people who said we're beneficiaries of government spending and for these reasons we don't feel that spending can or should lawfully terminate on July 1," she said. "We're asking that a similar master be appointed this year to adjudicate and consider those individual claims."

In her petition, Swanson proposed to the court that retired Minnesota Supreme Court Associate Justice James Gilbert serve as special master. She also proposed to keep state funds flowing to counties and school districts to perform essential services.

Dayton is preparing his own court petition identifying essential services, which a spokeswoman said would be filed later this week. Dayton also announced through a news release that former U.S. Attorney David Lillehaug will serve as his special counsel on issues relating to the potential government shutdown. He made no further comments.

House Republican Majority Leader Matt Dean of Dellwood said a government shutdown is completely avoidable, and he encouraged the governor to keep negotiating.

"We need to find common ground and work our way out," Dean said. "We wish that the governor had responded to our offer from last Monday. We have not had a substantive response to that. No counteroffer, and so far there's just been plans for a shutdown, not plans for a solution."


The day's only budget-related meeting was a brief discussion between the governor's staff and a handful of legislators on higher education funding. There have been a series of similar discussions on individual budget bills. Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter, was in the meeting, but he said there was nothing new proposed or discussed, and the GOP committee chairs didn't have authority to negotiate. Morrow said he's not sure why the meeting was scheduled.

"We need a global solution on the entire state budget," Morrow said. "This really comes down to the need to enter into a negotiation and compromise."

Republican leaders will hold another in a series of public meetings on Wednesday to take up budget-related matters. The Legislative Commission on Planning and Fiscal Policy will meet to discuss efforts by the executive branch to prepare for a possible shutdown. In a news release announcing the meeting, Republican Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch of Buffalo said the lack of transparency by the Dayton Administration on its shutdown planning has been "unacceptable."