Dayton's cynical shutdown

  • Article by: JONATHAN BLAKE
  • Updated: June 17, 2011 - 10:11 PM

In his list of 'critical services' lurks the governor's true motive.

Gov. Mark Dayton

Photo: Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

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Gov. Mark Dayton released his plan for a state government shutdown earlier this week, outlining the staff and services that his administration considers essential. The plan was filed in Ramsey County District Court, since the courts will play a major role in any shutdown planning.

While the governor's office says it considers all government services to be essential at some level, the shutdown plan includes only those "critical services to protect the lives and safety of Minnesotans."

The administration also emphasizes that the courts will ultimately determine which services are "critical." But the shutdown recommendations offer a telling glimpse of this administration's priorities and motives.

Dayton's plan is appalling -- not only for the services it deems "critical" but, more important, for those it does not. For example, the governor plans to stop all aid payments to schools.

Additionally, health care providers who serve Minnesotans on medical assistance will also go without payment. And at a legislative hearing this week, an administration official acknowledged that bridge assessments also did not make Dayton's list, apparently failing to meet the governor's "critical service" standard.

The clear strategy: Make any government shutdown hurt as much as possible, as quickly as possible, and as broadly as possible in order to coerce legislators into accepting Dayton's tax hike proposal.

Of course, the Dayton administration would never admit that. Instead, it insists that the state Constitution leaves it no choice but to stop paying health care providers and nursing homes, to stop aid payments to schools, and to take other devastating measures.

According to Rep. Ryan Winkler, a leading DFL voice on all things shutdown, it would be unconstitutional for the state to spend money on virtually anything if a budget deal is not reached by July 1. Winkler says "any spending without appropriation by law is not constitutional."

The Dayton administration has taken a similar stance.

(Of course, another problem with this argument is the fact that the Legislature passed a balanced budget that would have made appropriations for all state services had Dayton not vetoed it.)

Dayton is hiding behind the state's courts and Constitution to justify a cynical and draconian plan motivated more by politics than principle. For evidence, contrast Dayton's shutdown plan with those that preceded it.

Contingency planning for a government shutdown is nothing new to this state. Gov. Tim Pawlenty developed one prior to the state's 10-day partial shutdown in 2005, and Gov. Jesse Ventura planned for a shutdown that was ultimately averted in 2001.

A comparison of the plans is telling. Dayton has deemed as "critical" not only his media and communications staff, but also staff at his official residence. Among those employed at the governor's mansion are Dayton's chef and gardener.

In 2001, by comparison, Ventura planned to all but shutter the mansion. Aid payments to schools? They were included in the Ventura and Pawlenty plans.

Bridge assessments? They were included in the Ventura and Pawlenty plans. Health care? Again, the Dayton administration is alone in its recommendation to stop paying those who provide care for vulnerable Minnesotans.

Dayton's omissions are especially glaring in light of some of the services included in his plan. The state's dentistry board would continue to operate under a Dayton shutdown. Maintenance at Giant's Ridge resort would also continue.

And while Dayton does not plan to pay those who provide health care for vulnerable Minnesotans, he does plan to pay those who care for the state's bison herd.

Dayton's shutdown plans may soon be a moot point. Legislative leaders offered a new proposal to the governor Thursday, offering to remove more than $200 million in tax relief from their budget if Dayton agrees to drop his demand for a tax hike.

Perhaps the two sides are finally approaching a final agreement on how to operate this state for the next two years. Maybe on July 1, instead of preparing for a devastating shutdown, Minnesotans will be planning a relaxing July 4 weekend.

For the sake of the many Minnesotans who would suffer most under a government shutdown, let's hope so.

Jonathan Blake is vice president of the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota, a free-market think tank in Minneapolis.

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