Shutdown ends as Dayton signs budget

Signing budget
With Secretary of State Mark Ritchie next to him, Gov. Mark Dayton signs the budget bills at the Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. Wednesday, July 20, 2011.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton has signed the state budget, ending a 20-day state government shutdown.

Dayton signed nine budget bills and three other spending bills about five hours after the Republican-controlled Legislature approved them.

Lawmakers held a special session on Tuesday that lasted nearly 13 hours in an effort to end the shutdown as soon as possible.

A bill-signing ceremony in the governor's office ended the more than six-month slog that began in January to resolve the state's projected $5 billion budget deficit for the next two years.

"I'm not particularly happy with this budget I've just signed into law," Dayton told reporters. "I signed it because otherwise Minnesota wouldn't go back to work."

About 22,000 state employees who were laid off during the shutdown were instructed to start reporting to work Thursday morning. Dayton said it will take time for everything to get back to normal, but he said state agency leaders have been able to make plans since last Thursday, when he and Republican leaders reached a budget agreement.

"We've been anticipating this development," Dayton said. "Everybody's geared up and ready to go to try to get state services up and running."

State parks will need at least 24 hours before they can open to day-use and at least 48 hours before they can open to overnight camping, DNR spokesman Chris Niskanen said. That means state parks won't be open Wednesday or Thursday, he said.

It will likely take at least several days for road construction crews to resume work.

"These folks certainly if they had other work in the field, on their books, they may have moved equipment, moved resources to expedite that private work," said Tim Worke, director of the Transportation and Highway Division with the Associated General Contractors of Minnesota. "And now to simply snap your fingers and say 'hurry up and come on back' is not such an easy task."

According to the state's agreement with its employees, workers have up to three days to return to work. But Dayton said he expects most will be back Thursday.

Although Dayton mentioned last week he would seek back pay for state workers, he said Wednesday that workers waived their right to claim for back pay in the pre-shutdown agreement with the state, instead opting to become eligible for unemployment insurance.

Jim Schowalter, the state's budget commissioner, plans to calculate the total cost of the shutdown once state employees return to work.

"We'd expect to see additional costs due to factors including the execution of the shutdown, uncollected revenues, and lost productivity," he said in a statement released Wednesday.

After signing the budget, Dayton also took time to reflect on the shutdown, which he described as an "unpleasant time."

"I'm very relieved that it's about to be over," he said.

Dayton described the negotiations with Republican leaders as tough yet respectful.

Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said she found Dayton to be a willing partner in talks to finish the state's financial work.

"I was pleased to see he was quite reform-minded, or at least receptive and open to our reforms. Not all of them. But it seemed like we could make an argument, and perhaps get some agreement there," she said after the Legislature adjourned early Wednesday.

But the debate between Dayton and Republican lawmakers over taxes and spending continued.

The budget agreement to solve the deficit relies on cuts as well as delayed payments to school districts and borrowing against the state's future settlement payments from tobacco companies. Republicans had wanted an all-cuts budget, while Dayton wanted the state's top earners to pay more taxes to provide the revenue needed to prevent what he saw as drastic cuts.

Dayton said he wasn't able to persuade Republicans to accept his tax proposal.

"I think the people of Minnesota should know that their preference is to borrow $1.4 billion," he said. "They'll have to explain to the people of Minnesota why that is a better priority."

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said Republicans in the House were pleased that the deals were struck without a tax increase. He said he hopes an improved economy might give Republicans the chance to add tax breaks to the budget deal next year.

(MPR reporters Tim Pugmire, Madeleine Baran, Tim Nelson and Matt Sepic contributed to this report.)

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