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Save-the-beer bill falls flat

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  • April 18, 2012 - 11:33 AM

Last year’s state government shutdown left thousands of workers without paychecks, shuttered state parks, cut off critical government services, mothballed road projects and left the state teetering on the edge of a beer shortage.

On Monday, the House debated a bill that would prevent one of these crises from ever happening again. Guess which one?

“I’m not going to stand up and vote to serve people beer when I can’t get my residents in my nursing homes the critical care that they deserve,” said Rep. Patti Fritz, DFL-Faribault, who said nursing homes in her district had to shoulder the cost of keeping patients alive throughout the shutdown when state funds for ventilators, feeding tubes and dialysis dried up.

The bill, which would have kept the beer and liquor flowing during a shutdown even if vendors were unable to renew their licenses, fell flat. But not before a drawn-out debate that was less about beer and more about who was to blame for the 2011 shutdown.

“Just for the record, there’s only one person in state government who has the right to shut down government, and that’s the governor,” said Rep. Joe McDonald, R-Delano. “You know it. So don’t be so disingenuous to say it’s our fault, that we didn’t do the job. We had a very tough assignment, especially with a lot of us new freshman here…we wanted to cut spending and your side, all you wanted to do was raise taxes. That’s all they wanted to do, was raise taxes.”

Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, pointed out that there was also a government shutdown in 2005, under a Republican governor.

“The only thing that is in common between 2005 and 2011 is that Republicans were in charge of the state House both times,” Winkler said. “When you people get in charge of this institution, you like to shut down government.”

Winkler continued: “I understand it. You have all these tea party folks, you have this anti-government fury coming in, and I understand that a government shutdown must be the greatest thing you could possibly imagine and it doesn’t sound that bad to you. Unless, of course, it affects beer.”

After more than an hour of testy debate – McDonald accused Winkler of making “smart-aleck” remarks at his expense – the shutdown beer bill fell one vote short of the 68 it needed for passage.

Opponents questioned whether it was fair to cushion the blow of a government shutdown for one group – liquor vendors who are unable to purchase or renew their licenses during a shutdown – but not for the rest.

"We shouldn't be passing a bill that just sets the stage for the next government shutdown," said House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis.

House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, suggested that Democrats simply want to ensure that Minnesotans are as miserable as possible during a shutdown, so they’ll take it out on lawmakers and force a quick compromise.

“What does shutting down the government have to do with buying beer? What does shutting down the government have to do with whether or not I want to go down to Canterbury and bet on a horse?” he said. “It’s the government getting in the way of people (saying) ‘I’m going to make it so uncomfortable for you in your private life. I’m going to make it so uncomfortable; you’re going to call the people and tell them to raise taxes.”

After the debate, came the reframing. Dean tweeted: “DFL votes to keep the state's ability to withhold beer from taxpayers. Yes you read that right.”

© 2014 Star Tribune