New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie
Mel Evans, Associated Press - Ap
Other states headed for shutdowns
- Article by: BAIRD HELGESON
- Star Tribune
- June 10, 2011 - 11:20 PM
The government shutdown drumbeat gripping Minnesota is reverberating around the nation as a handful of states are locked in a similar political drama.
North Carolina, Iowa and New Jersey all face the same stark choice as Minnesota over the next few weeks: Find a way to bring their divided governments together or shut down operations down until they can, laying off thousands of workers in a still-fragile economy.
The 2010 elections launched a wave of fiercely partisan players into state offices, many of them unwilling to compromise deeply held beliefs on how to deal with budget deficits, taxes and government reforms.
"Part of it is a staring contest," said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor of the Cook Political Report in Washington, D.C. "Part of it is that Republicans feel a strong sense of fiscal responsibility and to keeping their promises on taxes."
Some governors who swept in vowing to take a hatchet to government spending now seem to relish the chance to shut down state government.
In a recent speech to the American Enterprise Institute, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he would never bend to Democrats who want to raise taxes.
"If you want to close down the government because of that, that's fine," the Republican governor said. "I'm getting in those black SUVs with the troopers; I'm going to the governor's residence. I'm gonna go upstairs, I'm gonna open a beer, I'm gonna order a pizza, I'm gonna watch the Mets."
In statehouses nationwide, the arguments often are marked by first-time governors and freshman legislators who believe the sagging economy and soaring government costs have led to a profound ideological crossroads.
In Minnesota, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton has told Republican legislative leaders that they underestimate his resolve to increase taxes on the wealthy as a way to fix the state's finances.
Republicans in Minnesota and other states seek to dramatically scale back the scope and cost of government and accuse Democrats of an economy-killing devotion to unions and big-government powers. Democrats say Republicans are committed to protecting the wealthy and willing to eviscerate valuable government services to do it.
Many of the debates have the same pressure points: a sagging local economy, shriveled tax revenues and higher demand for services. Combined, states face a staggering $112 billion in projected budget gaps next year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Christie had defeated former Democrat Gov. Jon Corzine after New Jersey endured years of rapid-fire deficits. Now Christie is going head to head with Democrats, who want to raise taxes on high earners and beat back his plans to trim benefits and enact other cost-cutting measures that would trim a deficit projected at $10 billion -- nearly 40 percent of the budget.
If no deal is reached by July, New Jersey could experience its second shutdown in history. The first was in 2006, a year that saw the state shut down its lottery and lay off more than half of its 80,000 employees.
A cascading phenomenon
Kevin Leicht, director of the Iowa Social Science Research Institute at the University of Iowa, said leaders in shutdown states are engaged in a high-stakes game of chicken.
"There's an attitude that says if you want to shut down, go ahead, let's see what this will do," Leicht said. "Some of this is being driven by real budget difficulties, the rest of it is posturing and grandstanding. ... It's a cascading phenomenon. There's this idea that I have to prove I have unyielding principles."
But the potentially embarrassing and high-profile pressure of a potential government shutdown can test even the most hard-nosed ideologies.
North Carolina appeared to be careening toward closure in a textbook battle over taxes, the economy and size of government. But in a last-minute move, the GOP-controlled Legislature peeled off a handful of Democrat votes -- enough to approve a budget proposal with a veto-proof majority.
That could potentially avert a shutdown, but Democrat Gov. Beverly Perdue is still mulling over a decision to sign or veto the budget proposal. She has until Tuesday.
The fight is not always about deficits. In Iowa, Republican Gov. Terry Branstad and the politically divided Legislature have failed to reach agreement even though the state has a $1 billion reserve. They have bickered for months over the size of the budget and education funding, leaving Iowans to face their first partial government shutdown in state history.
Roadkill caucus reaches out
Washington state was heading down a similar path until earlier this month.
Like Minnesota, state officials there faced a $5 billion budget hole and no agreement on how to solve it.
A group of moderate Democrats known as the "Roadkill Caucus" finally broke the deadlock by ditching their party leaders and working with a like-minded group of moderate Republicans to craft their own budget solution. The group got its name because its members had been more accustomed to being run over by party leaders in past years.
The ragtag band of moderates refused to vote on a budget plan until ruling Democrats in the House approved changes in workers' compensation, agency consolidation and state debt.
Some House members howled that the roadkill group was trying to turn Washington into Wisconsin, where thousands descended to protest Gov. Scott Walker's effort to strip collective bargain rights from many state workers.
On the final day of the session, the deal was done.
"For a long time, it looked highly unlikely," said Jason Mercier, director of the Center for Government Reform at Washington Policy Center. "But at the end of the day, nobody wanted to see a shutdown happen."
Baird Helgeson • 651-222-1288
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