By Baird Helgeson and Rachel E. Stassen-Berger
Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson Monday on Monday asked a judge to keep needed services open in the event of a government shutdown, offering the first detailed glimpse at the possible scope of a state closure.
The attorney general said in a Ramsey County court filing that without a court order to pay for essential services, "Minnesotans would be deprived of their rights ... and that the life, health, safety and liberty of citizens would be profoundly and irreparably impacted."
The attorney general argued that without such a court order, 1,288 mentally ill patients would no longer get care, 9,000 prisoners would have to be released and that 616 of the most dangerous sex offenders would be out on the streets.
The attorney general argued that Minnesotans who participate in health care programs that receive federal funding should continue to get their full payments. All told, about 600,000 Minnesotans receive federally-backed Medical Assistance.
The state is edging toward a July 1 government shutdown if DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and the Republican-controlled Legislature can't reach a deal on the state's $5 billion projected deficit. Dayton wants to raise taxes on high earners, which the GOP won't agree to. But the GOP wants deeper cuts than the governor will accept.
The court filing offers the most detailed look yet at the reach of a possible government shutdown. This shutdown stands to be far more wide-ranging and painful than the partial state closure in 2005. That time, then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty had signed several budget bills and cut deals with DFL legislators to keep parts of government operating.
This time, only the tiny agriculture department budget has been signed and no other deals appear to be in the works. That means parks, state tourist attractions and even the state lottery could be closed.
Swanson also asked the judge to unlock money for the 754 veterans in the state's five veterans homes to ensure their care is not interrupted in the event of a government shutdown.
Swanson notes in the court filing that some courts have ordered tax increases to ensure states meet their constitutionally mandated requirements to educate and protect the health and safety of residents.
Here's the reasoning behind the case, filed in Ramsey County Court: