With eight days left until the end of the session, and no final deal on the budget yet in sight, state Sen. Sean Nienow is preparing Plan B.
The Cambridge Republican last week introduced contingency measures to keep the lights on if the state government heads into a shutdown.
If legislative leaders and Gov. Mark Dayton deadlock over budget negotiations, it’s possible state history will repeat itself. Minnesota has experienced two partial government shutdowns in the past decade. The first was a nine-day stoppage in 2005, and the second lasted 20 days in 2011.
“In the event that something like that happens again,” Nienow said, “I want to have at least proposals on the table that we can go back to and say, ‘Maybe we should do this.’ ”
Three bills introduced Tuesday present a few options. One would prohibit legislators and Dayton from being paid until “major finance and revenue bills have been enacted.” The second would allow state employees to use accrued vacation or sick leave during a shutdown and also ensure health insurance coverage doesn’t lapse. It also says the state will continue operations that “protect life, safety and property.” The third measure would allow government to continue operations, though at 70 percent of existing spending levels.
Legislators are racing to finish the session May 18, a day before they’re supposed to vacate the Capitol, which is undergoing a multiyear renovation. Moreover, legislators say, a government shutdown during a time of a budget surplus would be political malpractice.
Late last week, Senate and House leaders said they were making progress on budget negotiations. Dayton, House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, and other key legislators have had several closed-door meetings. They’ve already reached spending agreements in two areas of government — agriculture and environmental programs — but those represent the smallest slices of a roughly $40 billion state budget.
“At this point we’re still quite a ways away, but optimistic that we’ll get to a final number and get the session closed out on time,” Daudt told a group of reporters Thursday outside the Minnesota governor’s residence after having breakfast with Dayton.
Talks continued over the weekend. Dayton, Daudt and Bakk shared a boat Saturday on Lake Vermilion for the 2015 Governor’s Fishing Opener.
Aside from agriculture and the environment, the competing budget proposals are far apart on spending goals. Dayton and Senate DFLers have proposed two-year budgets of about $43 billion, with some tax cuts. The GOP-led House meanwhile has proposed a $40 billion budget, and tax cuts of about $2 billion.
Given Minnesota’s two shutdowns in a decade, political brinkmanship may not be in vogue. Legislators would be left trying to explain to voters how they deadlocked over a projected $1.9 billion surplus. As Nienow put it, “The public would say, ‘What the heck?’ ”
Staff writer Patrick Condon contributed to this report.