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Published June 14 2011

Forum editorial: Minnesota won’t fall into abyss

To read headlines and listen to the punditry, it would seem a shutdown of Minnesota state government will visit catastrophe on the Gopher State. Minnesota as we know it will be paralyzed, the news coverage suggests, and the good people of the state will suffer horribly.

Maybe not.

There’s a good measure of Chicken Little-ism in the dire forecasts. The last time state government shut down, in 2005, Minnesotans weathered inconveniences, but the state did not tip into the abyss. Should Gov. Mark Dayton and the Republican leaders of the Legislature fail to come to a reasonable budget compromise before the month is out, state government will lock the doors, but life will go on for most Minnesotans.

There certainly will be inconveniences and irritations associated with a temporary loss of certain state functions. In some instances, inconvenience and irritation will have significant impact on individuals and businesses. There is no doubt state workers on furlough will be affected.

But many local political subdivisions such as cities and schools are preparing contingency plans to keep operating if state funding dries up during a state government shutdown. Cities and schools can tap reserve funds with the expectation that when the state is up and running again, they will be reimbursed. Basic functions of government such as police and fire protection and water and sewer services will continue.

The real travesty in Minnesota’s budget mess is not preparations forced on local governments. It’s the inability of the governor and majority legislative leadership to find common ground. A streak of stubbornness infects both sides of the debate, although Dayton has made small steps toward the Republican budget number. He remains wedded, however, to raising individual income taxes on Minnesotans he defines as rich – those with annual incomes of more than $250,000. For their part, Republicans are captive of an element of their caucus that refuses to even consider the possibility that modest revenue enhancements should be part of a spending-cutting package.

Unless both sides take a few more steps toward genuine compromise – and do so soon – a shutdown is all but certain. Meanwhile, Minnesota will muddle through the political paralysis more embarrassed by their state leaders than hurt by temporary loss of a few government services.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.