Politics and Government

MN government begins planning for potential shutdown

Minnesota Legislature
Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, right, and House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, middle, exchanged glances as Gov. Tim Walz sat nearby during a press conference May 17, 2021, in St. Paul.
David Joles | AP

Updated: 2 p.m.

Minnesota state government employees have been officially warned they’ll be sidelined if no budget is approved by the end of June.

Layoff notices began arriving over the holiday weekend. They were sent to nearly 38,000 state employees. Gov. Tim Walz sent a follow-up message on Tuesday to remind them that lack of a new budget would temporarily put them out of work.

It’s the first visible sign of planning for a possible shutdown that would start on July 1. Other notices will go out to affected people and programs, a step needed even if lawmakers enact a new budget in time. The Department of Minnesota Management and Budget and other state agencies are working to determine priority services.

In his letter, Walz calls the notice a formality the executive branch is obligated to provide and that he will do what he can to make sure the work stoppage doesn’t come to fruition.

“This past year has been unbelievably challenging, and I’m sorry that the budget situation at the Legislature causes additional stress and uncertainty,” Walz wrote. “I will continue to do everything I can to reach a balanced budget agreement in time to avert a shutdown.”

As part of the notice, employees are reminded that they would either be laid off or placed on unpaid leave. They won’t be automatically paid for time missed, but they could collect unemployment. 

The Legislature should pass a budget as soon as possible to prevent a shutdown, said Megan Dayton, president of the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees (MAPE), the second-largest union in state government.

“Getting these layoff notices in our mailboxes over the Memorial Day weekend, it was truly an affront to the public servants who have been stepping up nonstop for the last year, over the last 15 months,” Dayton said. “We’ve been keeping Minnesota running and the Legislature now needs to do its job.”

MAPE’s members work across state agencies. They include health department laboratory staff as well as employees who process unemployment checks, tend to animals at the Minnesota Zoo and maintain computer systems.

There were previous partial government shutdowns in 2005 and 2011 over incomplete budgets.

A bill considered in 2019 would have assured furlough pay in the event of a shutdown. It didn’t become law. 

Some workers in essential roles could be required to keep working no matter what.

The Legislature will come into special session this month for potential budget votes. But so far full agreement on that $52 billion two-year plan remains subject to negotiation.

There has been little public deliberation involving top lawmakers of the Republican-led Senate and DFL-led House since the regular session ended on May 17.

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