State shutdown services bill passes Minn. Senate

Republicans in the Minnesota Senate passed two bills Thursday that are aimed at easing the impact of future state government shutdowns.

One measure would keep state parks open, while the other would make sure the State Lottery and horse racing tracks continue operating.

Last year's budget impasse between DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and the Republican-controlled Legislature lingered well into the summer. The resulting partial government shutdown lasted three weeks, and the locked gates at state parks were one of most visible consequences. Sen. Al DeKruif, R-Madison Lake, said the state lost $350,000 in park revenue during the shutdown, and many vacationers were inconvenienced.

"Folks in Minnesota who had reservations to camp were met with 'Park Closed to the Public' signs when they arrived. This should never again occur in Minnesota."

"During the state shutdown in 2011, folks in Minnesota who had reservations to camp were met with 'Park Closed to the Public' signs when they arrived," DeKruif said. "This should never again occur in Minnesota, and I hope we can work together with Gov. Dayton to agree that the citizens own the state parks in Minnesota, and they should never be closed again."

Under DeKruif's bill, operating funds would continue to flow to all state parks and recreation areas during a shutdown. The money would come from a special state parks account in the natural resources fund.

DeKruif is also the chief sponsor of a separate bill to keep money flowing to the State Lottery and Racing Commission. He said last year's shutdown cost the state nearly $10 million in lottery revenue and almost destroyed Minnesota's horse racing industry. Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, said the privately-owned Canterbury Park was needlessly forced to close because its regulating agency was shut down.

"The park had paid their fees for their license to cover the cost of regulating the races, and it was in the bank, and it just had not been appropriated yet," Robling said.

The Senate passed both measures on largely party-line votes. Democrats argued that eliminating some of the consequences of a shutdown would do nothing to help lawmakers resolve their differences next time to avoid a shutdown. Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, said lawmakers need more incentives to reach timely budget agreements, not fewer.

"This bill, as well as the former bill and others that have been brought up in the Legislature, have as essential components to them a diminishment of the pressure on the Legislature to get their work done on time," Sheran said.

The Senate debate also appeared to open some shutdown wounds that still haven't healed. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are still blaming the other side for the budget impasse and an unwillingness to compromise. Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park pointed his finger at Republicans.

"If you reward obstinacy, you will get obstinacy," Latz said. "You will not get political resolution, which is what our electors, or constituents sent us here to accomplish."

But DeKruif blamed Dayton.

"We were shown the hand. He said 'I don't want to talk to you about them. Unless we raise taxes $1.4 billion, I don't want to talk to you about anything,' " DeKruif said. "And that's where the impasse came in."

There are companions to both shutdown-related bills in the Minnesota House, but neither has yet made its way through the required committees. Dayton's press secretary said that the governor has not yet taken a position on either bill.

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