Minnesota officials reach accord to end shutdown

Associated PressJuly 15, 2011 

— Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and top Republicans agreed Thursday to end a budget impasse that prompted the longest state government shutdown in recent history.

Dayton said the state government would be back in business "very soon," but he didn't say exactly when.

The deal to erase a $5 billion deficit came after a big sacrifice from Dayton, who made new income taxes a central campaign message last year and the centerpiece of his budget. He dropped that and said he would accept - with conditions - an offer the GOP put forward on the eve of the shutdown to bring about $1.4 billion into the budget by delaying payments to schools and selling tobacco payment bonds.

Republicans agreed to his conditions, which included relinquishing a list of policy changes such as banning state aid for stem cell research and a plan to cut the state workforce by 15 percent.

They conceded to higher state spending than they had wanted. Republican lawmakers spent months insisting that the two-year budget be capped at $34 billion, the amount the state was projected to collect without new sources of money. Instead, it will be closer to $35.4 billion.

The deal - if approved by lawmakers - would end a government interruption that has lasted two weeks and isn't over yet.

Dayton announced the deal outside his office with House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch after a three-hour negotiating session. The somber looks on their faces testified to a hard bargain.

"It was about making sure that we get a deal that we can all be disappointed in, but a deal that is done, a budget that was balanced, a state that was back to work," Zellers said.

"Nobody is going to be happy with this, which is the essence of real compromise," Dayton said.

Dayton didn't say when he will call a special legislative session to pass a budget but indicated it would be within days.

He said a stopgap funding measure won't be necessary because the two sides will agree on and pass bills setting a new two-year budget.

The shutdown has idled 22,000 state employees, closed state parks and rest stops and cut off funding to many social services. It has cost the state millions in the cost of preparing for the shutdown and in lost revenue since then. The interruption has also prevented entrepreneurs and professionals from getting state licenses. The latest licensing snag threatens to stop the sale of Miller, Coors and other popular beers in the state within days.

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