U.S. state of Minnesota ends longest government shutdown

08:48, July 21, 2011      

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The 20-day government shutdown of the U.S. state of Minnesota, the longest in the state's history, ended Wednesday after the signing by Governor Mark Dayton of a package of budget bills lawmakers passed early in the morning.

While the budget plan would eliminate a 5-billion-dollar projected two-year budget deficit, many said it's just a short- term solution to a long-term problem.

MARATHON SESSION

The new budget plan was signed following a marathon special session of the state legislature, which started at 3 p.m. Tuesday and continued on until 3:30 a.m. Wednesday. Lawmakers worked hard on nine budget bills to fund the state government during the two- year period beginning July 1, along with three other spending bills requested by Dayton with a price tag of nearly 500 million dollars. Both chambers passed those bills in mostly party-line votes.

The budget plan would rebalance the state budget through a mix of spending cuts, deferred payments to schools and borrowing against tobacco payments.

Both sides made some compromises to make the deal -- Dayton gave up his demand for raising income taxes on the wealthiest Minnesotans, while Republicans softened their stance on significant spending cuts and allowed for more revenue through deferred payments and new borrowing.

"I'm not entirely happy with this budget I just signed into law, " Dayton told reporters after the signing. "It's not what I wanted, but it's the best option."

"While the budget agreement was not the most ideal to anyone, it was time to compromise, end the shutdown and put Minnesota back to work," said Senate Deputy Majority Leader Geoff Michel.

GRADUAL RESTART

While the state government shut down abruptly on July 1, it will take some time for agencies to restart, officials said.

"Normal operations do not happen immediately," Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter said. "Each agency will have its own decisions and issues to address before normal operations resume."

Roughly 23,000 of 36,000 state employees were furloughed during the shutdown, and they were expected to be called back soon.

National parks and highway rest stops closed during the shutdown would probably need a couple of days to be cleaned and repaired before reopening to the public.

Construction on road, bridge and building projects would need more days to resume as equipments were pulled off the site when the shutdown began.

The economic losses of the shutdown is still to be calculated. The laid-off employees burdened the state with rising expenditure on unemployment and health insurance benefits. The shutdown also resulted in unpaid state parks fees and reduced revenue from the tolled highway express lanes. The suspension of lottery sales, horse-race tracks and some construction projects will also erode the state revenue.

SHORT-TERM SOLUTION

Some critics said the new budget deal is just a short-term solution and is playing accounting tricks, as it would balance the state budget mostly by postponing payments to schools and borrowing from the future.

State House Minority Leader Paul Thissen called it "the most irresponsible budget in state history."

"Their budget forces the state to beg from seniors and the disabled with draconian budget cuts, borrow money to temporarily fill the deficit with one-time funds and steal from our children's future by expanding the K-12 school shift," he said.

"(The budget plan) would put the next legislature in an even more difficult situation," Democratic political analyst Todd Rapp said in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio.

Dayton could easily find a predecessor who played the same tricks to balance the state budget as required by law. Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who has joined the 2012 presidential race as a Republican candidate, did the same thing to fill a 4.3-billion-dollar budget gap during his governorship, only leaving the mess to his successor, critics said.

Source: Xinhua
 
 
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