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Continued: Relieved, but not celebrating

  • Article by: MARY LYNN SMITH and PAT PHEIFER , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Last update: July 15, 2011 - 5:35 AM

A lot of Minnesotans took a deep breath Thursday -- some relieved, others simply exasperated -- as an unprecedented government shutdown that disrupted the lives of some and inconvenienced others appeared to be near an end.

The shutdown delayed road projects, ruined vacations to state parks, halted horse racing, shut out some anglers without licenses and threatened to stop the flow of beer.

Most of those affected by the shutdown are anxious to get back to normal, but many are angry that the stalemate turned their lives upside down.

"I suppose we should be celebrating, but it's already caused so much damage to our business," said Margy Pennings, co-owner of Lake Management Inc., a family business at Marine on St. Croix. The company removes unwanted lake plants, but the shutdown suspended their state permits. The company laid off 18 people, including college students trying to earn tuition money.

"It's like a bad divorce,'' Pennings said. "How can you celebrate after so much pain has been caused?"

But many agree that it's time to get government back up and running, even if the compromise isn't perfect.

"We're glad this is coming to a conclusion," said Charlie Kyte, outgoing executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators. "There was just going to be greater and greater consequences to everybody."

The shutdown solution -- which shifts state aid payments that schools were counting on to the following year, requiring some districts to borrow money -- "comes at a big cost to the public schools in Minnesota," Kyte said, "even though school superintendents will put the best face on this and tell their parents that we're still doing a great job for your kids.

"But the reality is that the education that we're providing our children is denigrating itself and isn't going to be as good in the future as it has in the past."

Heidi Mendiola, whose husband, Mike, is an engineer with the state Department of Public Safety, said the couple curtailed their spending, calling the phone company, their Internet provider, credit card companies and banks to see where expenses could be cut.

"Even the grocery bill got condensed," she said. "Just buying the basics, not going out, not buying the daily coffee."

The Mendiolas even warned their son that his 7th birthday party this coming Sunday wouldn't be a big production.

"We already prepped him,'' she said. "'We want to make it special but please understand you're not going to have 10 presents in front of you.' His birthday will be a little happier now."

Tiffany Tevlin, a single mom to a 13-year-old daughter, works for the Department of Revenue and has been without a job for the past two weeks. "I'm not political, not for one party or the other. But I have to say I did more agree that some taxes should be raised instead of the route they had to go," she said.

"I'm glad that at least we'll get back to work. I also think that the deal, by the sound of it, as far as delaying payments to the schools, I think that will only hurt our children,'' Tevlin said. "That kind of makes me mad. ... But this is hurting my children, too, my not working."

At Canterbury Park, workers, trainers, jockeys and horse owners are anxious to be running again. Canterbury spokesman Jeff Maday said the park lost about $1 million in revenues each week and laid off 1,000 of its 1,100 workers.

Jockey Dean Butler, who has a wife and two young daughters, said the shutdown "cost me a lot of money. ... It was a stupid thing on the Legislature's part. It was just like two kids fighting in a schoolyard and neither one of them wanted to give up. Everyone in the state got hurt by their stupidity."

Still, Erik Forsberg, owner of the Ugly Mug in downtown Minneapolis, was relieved to hear the news of an apparent deal. State officials did not renew his liquor purchasing card and he already has run out of three beer brands.

With the Twins back in town, he expects the supply will drain even faster. "They need to update that list immediately," he said.

Over in St. Paul, Dee Darras is among the many business owners who will be happy to welcome back state workers, but she's restraining her excitement. "We don't know yet how long it will take for them to get the state workers back," she said. Darras figures her french bistro business lost 20 to 30 percent of its revenue during the shutdown.

Supporters of a proposed Minnesota Vikings stadium in Arden Hills hope the $1 billion plan can be part of the upcoming special session that will consider the budget deal.

New talks were held Thursday, team officials said.

"We are very close to an agreement. It's not complete, but it's close enough that we believe we can iron out the final details in discussions beginning" Friday, said Lester Bagley, the Vikings vice president for public affairs and stadium development.

Although Bagley said he thought a stadium deal has a "reasonable chance" of passing in the special session, some legislators say it will have to wait for a formal resolution to the budget crisis.

"I don't think it fits in at this time at all," said Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing. It could however be brought up in a separate special session later in the year, he said.

Staff writers Eric Roper, Rochelle Olson and Mike Kaszuba contributed to this report. mlsmith@startribune.com • 612-673-4788 ppheifer@startribune.com • 612-673-7252

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