SPECIAL REPORT: Minnesota government reopens under temporary budget extension

| 7/11/2005

Good news for weak-bladdered travelers in Minnesota: the rest area bathroom doors should be unlocked by now.

On Saturday, July 9, the state's legislature signed a temporary spending plan, ending an eight-day partial shutdown of the Minnesota's government and services - including rest stops - and sending approximately 9,000 state employees back to work.

The temporary "lights on" bill will keep the government fully funded until midnight on Thursday, July 14; however, legislators are expected to pass a finalized budget by Wednesday evening, The Associated Press reported.

The government shut down began Friday, July 1, when lawmakers couldn't come to terms on a temporary spending plan while sorting out details of the state's $30 billion budget. This is the first time in the state's history that Minnesota has shut down parts of its government. A similar situation took place in Tennessee in 2002.

Despite the shutdown, the Department of Transportation called in eight employees Friday, July 8, to handle the issuing of oversize permits for trucks, after a Ramsey County District Court judge ruled that the issuance of permits for oversize and overweight loads is one of the state's essential services. Jeanne Aamodt of the MnDOT told Land Line on Friday afternoon that the staff had already processed more than 300 permits and had more than 100 left to do before they went home for the day.

Lawmakers from the state House and Senate were deadlocked over several key issues, including school funding and health care for the poor, which is what led to the impasse.Each side fired shots blaming the other side for the shutdown. The Senate passed a temporary measure that would have extended the current funding, but both the House and the state's governor, Tim Pawlenty, rejected it.

The AP reported House Republicans rejected the temporary measure because they said it was only a means for Democrats in the Senate to drag the debate on the funding issue on into the late summer.

"The Senate wanted to shut down government from the beginning," said Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum.