St. PAUL, Minn. – Minnesota's government shut down Friday for the first time in state history after lawmakers failed to pass a temporary spending plan and left 9,000 employees jobless and highway rest stops unattended for the July Fourth weekend (search).
The shutdown came at midnight after lawmakers failed late Thursday to pass a temporary spending plan to keep the government up and running. The Senate adjourned 20 minutes after Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty (search) said he hoped the two sides could agree on a stopgap measure to keep the state's doors open for 10 more days.
"I'd like to say I'm sorry to the people of Minnesota," said Republican state Rep. Rod Hamilton of Mountain Lake. "This is disgusting."
Many states often miss their deadline for enacting new budgets. But Minnesota (search), unlike other states, has no law that automatically extends spending past the end of its fiscal year if a new budget is not approved.
Earlier Thursday, the Senate passed a temporary measure with no time limit, which the governor and Republican leaders in the House said they would not accept.
Most Republicans opposed the bill, saying it would create incentive to drag the budget debate deeper into the summer.
House Speaker Steve Sviggum, the Legislature's leading Republican, indicated he would not allow a House vote on the stopgap bill unless legislative leaders first reached a tentative deal on the full budget.
"The Senate wanted to shut down government from the beginning," Sviggum said.
The governor said Democrats wanted a government shutdown to embarrass him in the run-up to his 2006 re-election campaign.
"The Democrats turned and left tonight when Minnesota needed them most," Pawlenty said at a late-evening news conference.
Dean Johnson, leader of the Democratic majority in the Senate, said the sides had whittled the gap to less than $200 million in a two-year, $30 billion budget. But with the new fiscal year looming Friday, lawmakers remained deadlocked over issues including school funding and health care for the poor.
Eliot Seide, who heads the state's biggest employee union, lashed out at state leaders. He said it will be state workers — not lawmakers or the governor — who will have to pay the price for their failure to pass a budget.
"The services that they provide, the jobs that they do, the families that they care for ... , all in jeopardy because chicken was played in the Legislature by the governor of this state and the Legislature of this state," he said.
Minnesota had never before had to suspend services because of a budget dispute. The last state government shutdown was in Tennessee in 2002.
A judge earlier this month ordered Minnesota to protect essential services relating to health, safety and property — including state police patrols, nursing homes and food inspections.
Services that were closed included highway rest areas and the issuing of new driver's licenses. But the most significant pain would be felt by the roughly 9,000 employees who were locked out without some deal or stopgap spending plan.
Lawmakers hurried through a compromise bill to keep state parks from closing, eliminating the risk the parks would be unavailable during the Fourth of July weekend. The governor signed it and ordered park employees to report to work Friday.