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Minnesota Shutdown: Rising Costs and Growing Frustration

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This is a guest post written by Alicia Mazzara

Last Friday, the lights went dark in countless Minnesota state government offices, but not because workers were taking off early for the Fourth of July weekend. After months of tense negotiations, Democratic Governor Mark Dayton and the Republican-led Minnesota legislature failed to agree on a budget that would shape spending for the next two years.

Dayton locked horns with the legislature, as Republicans rejected his proposal to raise taxes on the wealthiest Minnesotans in order to balance the budget. In order to avoid an impasse, Dayton revised his stance to include a tax hike that would impact only Minnesotans earning over 1 million dollars. But Republicans, who recently captured majorities in the House and Senate for the first time in decades on a promise not to raise taxes, did not accept the bargain.

The rejection resulted in the shuttering of Minnesota government offices, leaving citizens and state employees with closed parks and limited services on one of the busiest holiday weekends of the year.

State government employees expressed frustrationover the legislatures' inability to reach a budget compromise on time. Dory Dahlberg, a web communications specialist for Stearns County, Minnesota, felt that leaders had failed to do their job as public servants:

As a local government worker and taxpayer in Minnesota I am embarrassed and angered by our esteemed "leaders" who have chosen to pout in their respective corners rather than reach a budget agreement. This group knew there was a deadline for their work and chose to ignore it. Average Minnesotans work to successfully meet deadlines everyday. We may not always 100% agree with the final results, but we fulfill our duties in accordance with the requirements of our employment. I expect the same from them.

Other workers lamented the lost labor cost as they prepared for the impending shutdown, not to mention the negative impact on state revenue with the closing of state parks during one of the state's most popular tourist periods. Amelia Brunelle, a graduate intern at the National Institutes of Health, highlighted the far-reaching costs of a shutdown:

The pressure should have been on for the last month or so. No one else gets to be frustrated at their coworkers and just say 'eh, we just won't do it.' Ridiculous for those that are out of work (20,000 Minnesotans, many of which spent the last 2 weeks working LONG hours in preparation for a shut down), those who live in and visit Minnesota (public parks shut down on a holiday weekend - great way to take in revenue guys!), businesses who run in Minnesota (and are w/o licenses, or have stalled construction sites outside their door).

By allowing the shutdown, many workers felt that leaders were failing to recognize the role that government plays in many citizens' lives. Sonya, a senior project manager for Hennepin County, also highlighted that government workers were taking the blame for political failures:

The unfortunate part is that the general public does not differentiate between government workers and grandstanding politicians... Anger at politicians and the political process needs to be aimed at the right target, not employees. The only lemonade I can see coming out of this is perhaps, just maybe if we're lucky, people will see how much government is needed, and appreciate for just a moment how necessary it is, and how things really just suck when it can't function.

It's hard to imagine a lot of positives coming out of Minnesota's government shutdown. While a Ramsey County judge ruled last week to keep a number of core services running, nearly 23,000 Minnesota state workers are currently out of a job right now. Countless private sector employees whose businesses are tied to state services -- like road construction, education, or health care services -- are also facing work stoppages and revenue losses.

While Minnesota politicians may believe they are taking a stand on fiscal responsibility, now is not the time to be inflexible. A government shut down creates negative consequences for citizens and state employees alike. Considering the state of the economy, the last thing Minnesota needs is more people out of a job.

A native Minnesotan, Alicia Mazzara is a Graduate Fellow at GovLoop and is currently pursuing her master in public policy degree at the George Washington University. In a past life, Alicia worked in consumer protection at the Federal Trade Commission.

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