It's over. Finally.
Gov. Mark Dayton ceremoniously signed a dozen bills Wednesday morning that will turn the lights back on for Minnesota's government and close the door on a shutdown that was the longest in recent U.S. history.
In the course of three minutes, he signed a 10-inch stack of bills that will eliminate the state's $5 billion budget deficit and said that "effective tomorrow, [Minnesota will] be back to work." Dayton also said that the shuttered state parks, one of residents' flashpoints during the shutdown, now in its 20th day, will reopen Thursday.
The reason the resumption of services won't resume immediately, his aides said Tuesday, is that state law requires a day for newly-enacted laws to trigger the appropriations needed to operate agencies and services.
"I'm not entirely happy with what I'm signing into law," Dayton said after the signing ceremony. "It's not what I wanted, but it's the best option available ... It gets Minnesota back to work."
The DFL governor signed the bills just five hours after the Republican-led Legislature adjourned a special session that Dayton had called late Tuesday morning.
Questioned by reporters Wednesday, he defended the budget deal he had reached with the GOP leadership last week, saying he agreed to it because the shutdown showed "no sign of ending." The budget, he said, "is in the best interests of most people in Minnesota."
He also said the bills amount to "essentially what I offered" weeks ago during talks with the Republicans. He returned to a theme he has sounded since last year's gubernatorial race, in which he insisted the state's budget mess should be solved by increasing income taxes on the state's wealthiest residents. Instead, by increasing state revenue by raising $1.4 billion with a shift of local school payments and tapping the state's tobacco revenue settlement, Dayton said Republicans chose "massive borrowing," rather than "raising taxes on millionaires and multi-millionaires."
"They'll have to be held to account for that," he said.
Dayton said positives embedded in the bills that just became law include his estimate of 14,000 jobs created by the $500 million bonding bill,along with a lack of social policy changes that would have restricted abortion rights, banned human cloning and curtailed collective bargaining rights for public employees, 22,000 of whom have been laid off during the shutdown. "What's as important as what's in the bills is what is not," he said.
State employees who waived their right to pay lost during the shutdown so they could collect unemployment benefits won't be receiving back pay, Dayton said.
He said state workers whohe's talked to during the shutdown "can't wait to get back to work."
Separately, state officials announced Wednesday that employees will be recalled to work starting at 6 a.m.Thursday and that they should report for their regularly scheduled shifts.
Dayton echoed DFL legislative leaders who have branded the budget solution as "irresponsible."
"I made the best arrangement possible, given [Republicans'] intransigence," he said. "I hope everyone has gotten a good dose of better judgment."