ST. PAUL, Minn. – Minnesota stumbled into its second government shutdown in six years on Thursday, with a partisan divide over taxes and spending to close a $5 billion deficit becoming only more bitter as a midnight deadline came and went without agreement.
Any hope of a last-minute budget deal between Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders evaporated around 10 p.m., when Dayton appeared to say he and Republicans were still fundamentally divided over how much the state should spend the next two years and that he saw no chance of avoiding a shutdown.
“It’s significant that this shutdown will begin on the Fourth of July weekend,” Dayton said. “On that date we celebrate our independence. It also reminds us there are causes and struggles worth fighting for.”
Republicans appeared again minutes later, and tried to hang blame for the shutdown around the governor’s neck. They said the two sides were closer than he admitted, and they criticized his refusal to call a special session so lawmakers could pass a “lights on” budget bill to keep government running. Dayton refused, saying he’s been clear for months that he would only agree to a total budget approach.
“I think the governor’s insistence that we pass a full budget is not going to be of much comfort to Minnesotans who are going to see delays on the highways because construction projects stop,” said Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo. “It’s not going to comfort people who can’t use our state parks, or who can’t get a driver’s license.”
The two sides didn’t meet again ahead of the deadline.
The shutdown means thousands of layoffs, a standstill for road projects and padlocked state parks just ahead of the Fourth of July weekend. The effects were already being felt hours ahead of the deadline, as people rushed Thursday to get driver’s and fishing licenses, and park officials began warning campers to pack their gear and leave.