ST. PAUL (WCCO/AP) — The number of services that will stay open if a government shutdown occurs will be limited, according to a Minnesota judge.
Ramsey County Chief Judge Kathleen Gearin ruled the following as core or essential government services — in accordance with Gov. Mark Dayton’s determination — and therefore, those functions that would continue to be funded if there’s a shutdown:
— Basic custodial care for residents of state facilities, such as treatment centers, nursing homes, veterans homes and other state-operated services
— Public safety and public health concerns
— Preserving the essential elements of the financial system
— Benefit payments and medical services to individuals
— Necessary administrative and supportive services, such as internet security
The criteria used to determine this list of essentials included whether they were services that provided national security, services that provided benefit payments in contractual obligations and activities essential to protecting life and property.
The ruling from Judge Gearin came as Dayton and top Republicans were sequestered in the governor’s office less than 40 hours before a government shutdown would start. Gearin largely adopted Dayton’s vision of what would count as critical state services in a shutdown, rejecting a more expansive list proposed by Attorney General Lori Swanson.
She said the state’s core functions were “far less in number and breadth” than Swanson’s interpretation. Gearin ruled that some programs, such as horse racing and child care aid programs not directly tied into the federal welfare system, were important but didn’t rise to the level of critical services. She acknowledged that those programs would suffer harm from a shutdown but said her authority was limited by the constitutional separation of powers.
“Neither the good services nor the fact that they may cease to exist without state funding is sufficient cause to deem their funding to be a critical core function of government and to overcome the constitutional mandate in Article XI,” she wrote, referring to nonprofit organizations that weighed in on the case.
She ordered the state to keep paying for critical services, amending Dayton’s list to her ruling with slight adjustments.
Gearin also named former Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz as a referee to rule on unclear areas of funding in a shutdown.
Dayton and lawmakers have been in secretive negotiations for nearly a week with no breakthrough. Dayton said a day earlier that Wednesday would be a critical day if they are to prevent a government shutdown. He has also ruled out calling a special session until he and the Republicans agree on the overall budget.
Republicans are pressing him to call them into special session to pass some parts of the budget and measures to prevent a shutdown.
The disagreement has brought Minnesota to the brink of its second government shutdown in six years. Gearin’s ruling made clear that a government closure would be far more extensive than a partial shutdown in 2005.
“This is going to be a tough shutdown, and people will notice,” said David Lillehaug, Dayton’s attorney in the shutdown case. “Anyone who says that government doesn’t do anything and doesn’t do it well, upon reading this order … they’re going to realize they’re very, very wrong.”
The shutdown wouldn’t affect things like police, state troopers, prisons, public health or disaster management. But citizens would see it in many other ways, such as closed state parks and rest stops, idled road construction projects, and closed state licensing offices. More than 40 state boards and agencies that carry out a variety of functions would go dark.
Minnesota is caught between a tax-the-rich governor and a live-within-our-means Legislature. The budget dispute dates to January, when Dayton became the state’s first Democratic governor in 20 years and Republicans took over the Legislature for the first time in 38 years.
Republicans swept to power campaigning against tax and spending increases, while Dayton won on a message of raising taxes on the highest earners. A five-month legislative session, and intermittent negotiations since adjournment last month, have failed to yield a solution for a $5 billion deficit.
Republican leaders either declined to comment on the ruling or said they hadn’t seen it. Dayton praised it and said he still hopes for a budget deal.
“I would much prefer a fair and balanced budget solution, rather than a government shutdown,” he said in a statement.
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