July 21--It's over.
The longest state government shutdown in recent U.S. history officially ended at 9:08 a.m. Wednesday when Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton signed the last of 12 budget bills the Legislature passed during a marathon one-day special session that ended before daybreak.
Some 22,000 laid-off state employees have been recalled to work starting at 6 a.m. today. They were off the job since July 1, when Dayton, a Democrat, and the Republican-run Legislature failed to agree on taxes and spending.
A new two-year $35.7 billion budget took effect as Dayton and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie signed the bills in a record three minutes in the governor's office. State finance officials start issuing checks today.
That means Minnesotans can start conducting state-related business as well as enjoying some fun again. The 67 state parks begin reopening Friday, although those damaged by storms or vandalism might remain closed.
The sale of lottery tickets resumes. Races are back on at Canterbury Park and Running Aces. Online sales of Minnesota fishing licenses were up and running Wednesday.
State employees will start processing all sorts of business, occupational and other license and permit applications, including driver's licenses and vehicle registrations, but they face a backlog of applications that piled up during the 20-day shutdown.
More than 100 highway construction projects slowly will crank back into operation, a process that could take several
It will take state officials several weeks to calculate the shutdown's costs, Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter said. Many staffers who crunch the numbers were laid off.
The shutdown ended with a budget agreement nobody liked. Dayton didn't get the income tax increase on high earners that he wanted, and Republicans failed to cut state spending.
Instead, they compromised by borrowing $1.3 billion -- $700 million by delaying state payments to school districts and another $640 million from selling tobacco bonds to investors who will be repaid from a 1998 tobacco company settlement with the state. The borrowed money will preserve what Dayton called "essential services" threatened by cuts, and it also enabled Republicans to block an income tax increase.
"It's not what I wanted, but it's the best option that was available and would be for any time," Dayton said after signing the budget bills.
Most important, he said, "It gets Minnesota back to work."
Reflecting Republican sentiments, Senate Tax Committee Chair Julianne Ortman said of the tax bill, "It may not be ideal, but it is a deal." GOP committee chairs made similar comments about most budget bills.
The budget spends more than Republicans wanted, Senate GOP Leader Amy Koch said Wednesday. But rank-and-file lawmakers decided to vote for the deal because it didn't raise taxes and provided "amazing reforms and mandate reductions and billions of dollars of savings."
The state will spend about 4 percent more -- about $1.3 billion -- than it did in the previous two years. But Republicans noted the budget cuts $2 billion from the projected cost of continuing all current programs and services.
Their bills slow the rising costs of state-subsidized health care, phase out health care provider taxes, strengthen teacher and principal evaluations, offer tax incentives for job creation, link state employee pay to performance and cut most state agency funding by 5 percent.
Rounding up votes for the budget bills "was a lot of work," Koch acknowledged, but the new laws will change the way government operates to control future spending and costs for job creators.
In the House, all 71 Republican members who were present voted for every one of the budget bills. "We were all going to do this together as a group, not as individuals," said House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove.
The key to their unity, Zellers said, was that everyone in the caucus, including 33 freshmen, got to air their views thoroughly and contribute to a consensus on the budget bills before the votes.