State workers may not get paid during a shutdown, but lawmakers plan to keep cashing checks. Gov. Mark Dayton said Saturday that he won't collect his pay should the shutdown occur.
State leaders say they are trying to avert a government shutdown, but they also are making plans to ensure they get paid if they can't strike a deal. The GOP-controlled House assured staffers and lawmakers this week that they would be paid, even as thousands of government workers prepare for life without paychecks.
"We can't get the government going again unless we pass bills," said House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood. Members can refuse their pay, House staffers told them in a memo. Dean said he hadn't thought about that possibility yet for his own paycheck.
The Minnesota Senate also plans make payroll as usual in early July.
In a statement Saturday morning, Dayton said: "In the event of a state government shutdown, which I remain committed to doing everything possible to avoid, I think it wold be terribly wrong for those of us responsible for it, the Republican legislators and myself, to receive our salaries while thousands of dedicated state employees have lost theirs."
A union leader who is bracing for the uncertainty of a protracted, wide-reaching government shutdown was outraged Friday that legislators would pay themselves and their staff when so many state workers may be laid off.
"It shows their lack of commitment and recognition of the impact their actions are having," said Jim Monroe, head of the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees, one of the state's largest employee unions.
In a letter led by a note from Speaker Kurt Zellers, House staffers told members this week that the law requires legislators be paid on the first of the month, and the House intends to use money in the bank to do that in the event of a July 1 closure.
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and the GOP-controlled Legislature are deadlocked over how to tackle a $5 billion projected deficit over the next two years. Dayton wants to raise income taxes on Minnesota's highest earners, a plan Republicans reject. The GOP has proposed cuts far deeper than Dayton says he can live with. If no budget is approved by the end of June, the state will lay off thousands of workers and put billions of dollars in payments into doubt, including money for health care, schools and local government aid.
Cullen Sheehan, chief of staff for the Senate Republican majority, said it would start to exhaust stored cash by mid-July, then resort to furloughing staff.
Dayton, like other constitutional officers and unlike 36,000 state employees, did not get a layoff notice, said spokeswoman Katharine Tinucci. That means he would keep working even during a shutdown. He asked the courts this week to allow 21 members of his staff to keep working -- and be paid -- even if much of the government closes.
State Auditor Rebecca Otto said she plans to stay on the job. "I don't know that I will be compensated for it," she added.
Courts crowded with requests
The courts, ultimately, will decide what money the state could spend in a shutdown.
Attorney General Lori Swanson asked the Ramsey County District Court this week to determine what critical services must continue if the state doesn't have a budget.
Gearing up for a Thursday hearing in that case, the House plans an executive committee vote Tuesday to intervene in the lawsuit.
Jodi Boyne, spokeswoman for House Republicans, said lawmakers will ask the court for permission to spend the $4 million in the bank to keep salaries flowing. The money would keep the House fully funded until Sept. 1.
The House is among a growing list of groups lining up to ask courts to weigh in.
The judicial branch filed a petition Friday, jointly with the attorney general, to keep courts open during a shutdown. The League of Minnesota Cities is close to filing court documents asking that payments to cities go out on schedule. A Senate panel this week passed a resolution that would allow it to join the case but did not specify any demands.
Health care providers are also joining in -- representatives of nursing homes and drug and alcohol treatment centers will ask the court to declare their services essential and worthy of payment in a shutdown.
Attorney Erick Kaardal and his clients are taking a different tack.
Kaardal, who represents four Republican senators and the conservative Minnesota Voters Alliance, plans to file a case Monday with the state Supreme Court to say no court should authorize spending outside a strict reading of the constitution. Only those activities required by federal mandates, outlined for continuing appropriation or named in the constitution should be funded in a shutdown, he said.
Those specific programs, he said, don't include prisons.
"It's a huge problem," Kaardal said, but it's what the constitution dictates. "I believe we are going to win."
Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Twitter: @rachelsb
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