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End of Minn. shutdown brings relief, frustration

Minnesota's state government shutdown ended Wednesday after 20 days, millions in lost revenue and frustration on the part of residents and politicians.

The stoppage made the state a national example of political dysfunction, a small-scale mirror of the dispute in Washington over whether to raise the debt ceiling. But while federal lawmakers appeared close to a deal to slash spending, Minnesota's budget was widely panned for just putting the problems off until later.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton pushed for months to raise taxes on the state's richest residents to provide more money for social services, while Republicans adopted a "live within our means" motto. In the end, the state will spend more by delaying aid to schools and borrowing against future payments from a legal settlement with tobacco companies.

In contrast, the proposal being floated Wednesday in Washington would cut entitlement programs while raising some taxes. In both cases, members of both parties have bitter pills to swallow, but in Minnesota, there's not even the satisfaction of having finally solved the problem.

Dayton said the budget was the best deal he could get given what he called Republican stubbornness.

"I signed it because otherwise Minnesota wouldn't go back to work," he said at a Capitol bill signing ceremony.

Republicans were equally unhappy, having voted to spend more than they wanted. They also gave up on proposals to ban funding for stem cell research and curb public employees' bargaining rights, while agreeing to a $500 million construction financing package Dayton wanted for university buildings and flood projects.

"We did compromise with the governor in giving him more money, more money than a lot of Republicans wanted to spend, more money than I wanted to spend," House Majority Leader Matt Dean said on Minnesota Public Radio.

The gears of government have started to turn again, with 22,000 laid-off state employees told to report to work Thursday to restart everything from lottery ticket sales to state historic sites.

The shutdown closed state parks and two state-regulated racetracks, suspended driver's license exams and some services to the vulnerable and even threatened to prevent some bars from purchasing alcohol. Court rulings kept payments to schools, local governments and subsidized health care programs going, and as the shutdown ground on, a judge gave relief to some programs — including child care assistance — by ruling they were essential.

The state lost millions of dollars in the shutdown, including lost revenue from lottery sales, tax audits and state fees and concessions, plus money spent preparing to shut down and the cost of unemployment and health benefits for laid-off workers. The full cost wasn't expected to be known for some time.

Republicans and Democrats have been at odds for years over how to address persistent state budget deficits, with GOP leaders pushing for deeper spending cuts and Democrats arguing for new taxes. This year, Dayton became the state's first Democratic governor in 20 years, while Republicans took over both legislative chambers for the first time in 38 years. The two sides argued bitterly over taxes and spending for months before their failure to pass a budget by the start of the fiscal year sent the state into a shutdown.

Its end was welcome, no more so than by those who felt its effects directly.

Alice Smith, 52, of St. Paul, who processes GEDs and transcripts at the Department of Education, said this was the hardest layoff of the three she's experienced and it's going to be hard catching up — both financially and with her workload.

"We're not going to get any back pay," she said. "It's all going to be a struggle for a full month until we get a full paycheck."

She helps support an adult daughter with disabilities and other relatives. During the shutdown, Smith said she went to a food bank when she needed help with groceries, but the shelves there were bare.

At the Canterbury Park horse track in Shakopee, President and CEO Randy Sampson was glad to call back about 1,000 employees.

"Obviously their lives were turned upside down," he said, adding that the shutdown cost horse owners and jockeys more than $1 million in purses. And Sampson said he found it "beyond frustrating" that the courts did not let Canterbury reopen even though it had already paid regulators enough in fees to keep them working.

"I can't say I'm jumping for joy because the whole thing has been such a painful and unnecessary situation," Sampson said.

"I'm relieved that it's over but I don't really see what it was all about," said Susan Lommen, 60, of Deerwood, whose husband, Guy, was laid off from his state job as a state lottery sales representative. "It seems like we're right back where we started from, because there's no resolution."

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Associated Press writer Steve Karnowski in Minneapolis contributed to this report.

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