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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published June 15 2011

UPDATED: Dayton would keep troopers on road, close parks in shutdown

ST. PAUL - Gov. Mark Dayton wants to keep state troopers on the road, guards in prisons and poor Minnesotans receiving health-care payments, but without a state budget in place before July 1 the state would close state parks, suspend the state lottery and stop payments to public schools.

Those were among recommendations Dayton made to Ramsey County District court today as his administration prepares for a possible government shutdown.

Dayton’s proposal would keep 12,350 state workers on the job out of the nearly 40,000 state employees.

Commissioner Jim Schowalter of Minnesota Management and Budget said Dayton recommends that only “critical life safety” programs continue because he feels those are the only ones that would be allowed under the state Constitution and previous court rulings.

Dayton’s court filing and one by Attorney General Lori Swanson on Monday ask the Ramsey County court to determine how much money the state can spend if Dayton and legislators do not agree on a budget by July 1, when a new two-year budget is to begin.

The state Constitution says the Legislature must appropriate money before the state can spend any, but Dayton wants the courts to allow some spending anyway.

Republicans criticized Democrat Dayton for spending more time on shutdown preparations and considering a new Vikings football stadium than he has on reaching a budget conclusion. Then, GOP leaders immediately convened a legislative commission to discuss the Dayton shutdown plan.

The governor and the Republican legislative leaders planned a budget negotiation session later today.

The governor’s request to the courts was for minimal services to continue, with the most emphasis placed on human services programs ranging from treating sex offenders to continuing health-care programs for the poor, disabled and elderly. In all, the Department of Human Services would keep 5,165 people on the payroll.

Dayton asks the courts to keep the courts running, guards to be on duty in state prisons and tax collections to continue.

The first court shutdown hearing has been set for June 23.

“I consider virtually all services provided by the state to be essential, and all of them have been established by previous governors and legislatures to serve and benefit people throughout Minnesota,” Dayton said, but he recommends closing many state programs ranging from the lottery to the Workers Compensation Court of Appeals.

He suggests that the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system remains open. It has enough money saved up to run through the fall term, but needs support from Minnesota Management and Budget to make payments.

But while MnSCU funds would continue under the Dayton plan, payments to public school districts would not.

During the legislative commission’s meeting, Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, criticized Dayton for keeping his official residence open but not sending money to schools.

“It is a state asset,” Schowalter responded about the St. Paul governor’s home. “It is not going to operate at maximum capacity.”

School payments are not being sought, Schowalter said, because they are not “critical life safety” issues.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said he does not think a government shutdown is necessary because time remains to negotiate a deal.

“We do not need him to be sitting quietly on the sidelines,” Zellers said.

Dayton said his recommendations to the courts were based on the state Constitution and court rulings.

“My decisions were not based upon personal preferences or policy considerations,” Dayton said.

Dayton also asks the court to order that he and legislative leaders engage in mediation to help resolve differences before a July 1 shutdown. Republicans leaders already have rejected a similar request.

“My evaluation of critical services has persuaded me even more deeply that a shutdown would have catastrophic consequences for a great many people throughout our state,” Dayton said. “I remain fully committed to doing everything I can to reach a balanced compromise with the Legislature on a fair and balanced budget before July 1 in order to avoid a shutdown.”