Gov. Mark Dayton is asking a Ramsey County judge to continue some services if state government shuts down on July 1. Dayton's top priorities are keeping public safety and health care programs running, but Republican lawmakers and others are suggesting Dayton's proposal is political in part because of the things he isn't funding.
Gov. Dayton wants Ramsey County Judge Kathleen Gearin to keep a batch of core services running during a shutdown. He is also asking Gearin to appoint former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz to mediate a budget resolution between Dayton and GOP legislative leaders.
At an afternoon press conference, Dayton said he's still optimistic that a budget deal can get done but insisted that a temporary shutdown is better than the Republican budget plan that cuts funding for higher education, mass transit and health care programs.
"They're better served by a temporary one for hopefully a very limited period of time than they would be over the next two years through the catastrophic cuts in so many areas," Dayton said.
Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter told lawmakers that Dayton's list is limited in protecting core life, health and safety issues. He said it's much narrower in scope than a petition put forward this week by Attorney General Lori Swanson.
"The governor's opinion is that that authority should be carefully granted because of the separation of duties and responsibilities between the Legislature, the executive and the courts," Schowalter said.
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Schowalter said Dayton's first priority is to get a budget deal. He and lawmakers are $1.8 billion apart, and Dayton wants to raise incomes taxes on Minnesota's top earners. Republicans say the state's projected $5 billion budget deficit should be erased through spending cuts. If the two sides fail to reach a budget deal, Judge Gearin will be asked to decide which services should continue.
Dayton wants subsidized health insurance, unemployment benefits, cash assistance for poor people and other programs to continue. But other big ticket items aren't being included. Payments to K-12 schools, nursing homes, doctors, hospitals and state aid to cities and counties would all stop under his plan.
Human Services Deputy Commissioner Ann Barry said Dayton's plan is limited in scope because he's reluctant to spend money without a budget plan signed into law. She said payments to all vendors and providers would be suspended under the plan.
"This list is very limited," Barry said. "It's very narrow and it's highly focused on those critical services that there can't be any lapse in payment because any lapse would cause a threat to the public's health or safety"
Barry said she expects nursing homes, hospitals and health clinics to rely on their cash reserves during a shutdown. Patti Cullen, with the nursing home association CareProviders of Minnesota, said a two-week shutdown could force some nursing homes to close.
"We have employees who have not gotten raises for three years. Now we're going to ask them to work for free and they're going to walk," Cullen said.
Cullen said that without the employees to provide the care, they would have to discharge residents, and if they don't have a place at home the only place to discharge them to would be the hospital.
Cullen said she feels like the state's elderly residents are caught in the middle of a political fight and her lawyers will ask the judge to continue state payments if there's a shutdown.
Republican lawmakers said Dayton's legal filing is politically motivated because it doesn't fund key programs. Rep. Keith Downey, R-Edina, said Dayton is spending too much time planning for the shutdown and not enough time negotiating a budget deal. He also dismissed Dayton's request for an independent mediator.
"The mediation seems like another smokescreen and another attempt to make it look like that the governor is doing something when in reality, on the ground, he's not doing anything on this budget," Downey said. "He's spending his time figuring out the political messaging and how make this shutdown hurt as badly as it possibly can."
Democrats, like Rep. Ann Lenczewski of Bloomington, say it's unfair to blame Dayton for the budget impasse. Lenczewski said the Legislature is tasked with getting bills signed into law, not just passing budget bills that one party supports.
"We have the budget authority and the responsibility, our election certificates say we've got to do it. It doesn't matter what day it's going to happen," Lenczewski said. "The Legislature is going to have to pass a bill through the House and Senate that this governor, not some other governor, will sign."
Judge Gearin said she'll hold a hearing on shutdown planning on June 23.