While budget talks continue, MnSCU prepares for possible shutdown

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

While budget talks grind on at the State Capitol, some state agencies are bracing themselves for a government shutdown.

The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) Board of Trustees met today (Wednesday, June 8) in emergency session to express a commitment to finding ways of keeping MnSCU classrooms open in the event of a July 1 shutdown.

“We are optimistic that a budget agreement will be reached before June 30,” said MnSCU Chancellor James McCormick in a statement.

“But we need to take steps now to prepare for any contingency,” he said.

More than 67,000 students are currently taking summer classes, according to MnSCU.

“We must do everything we can to avoid disruption of the education taking place this summer at Minnesota’s public colleges and universities,” said McCormick.

According to MnSCU, the system would be able to keep operating in the event of a shutdown through summer and fall sessions with a financial agreement with Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB) allowing it to tap into existing funds.

Without such an arrangement, MnSCU’s 32 state universities and community and technical colleges would need to close on July 1, assuming no state budget settlement is reached.

MMB Commissioner Jim Schowalter in statement said his agency is in discussions with MnSCU.

“Ultimately, any determination of critical services will be determined by the court system- including what services may continue to be provided by MMB,” said Schowalter.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders met today for lengthy talks but reported no breakthroughs.

“I’m not going to agree to their extreme position,” said Dayton, stepping into the Capitol corridor to speak with reporters.

While Republicans have agreed to slate $80 million extra to K-12 and $30 million extra to other funding areas — they do not specify where these extra dollars would come from, though rule out tax increases — Dayton views the two sides as not even close.

“We’re still over $1.69 billion apart,” said Dayton.

Dayton’s compromise “midpoint” in spending is $35.8 billion, whereas Republicans refuse to spend more than $34 billion.

Dayton indicated the current path budget talks are taking is leading to a state government shutdown.

He also expressed ire over the perceive treatment his state commissioners received yesterday while appearing before the Legislative Commission on Planning and Fiscal Policy.

Commissioners were “berated” and otherwise shown a lack of respect, said Dayton.

Dayton Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans was questioned concerning who he worked for, the people of the state or the governor.

Frans was faulted by Republicans for using “biased” language in discussing the budget.

“I’m concerned with the line of discussion here,” said Schowalter at one point during the hearing.

But Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, said she found it “very troubling” the commissioners had failed to appear at the last commission hearing.

They had a legal obligation, she argued.

Dayton had forbidden them to attend, citing several reasons.

Republicans left today’s budget talks urging the governor to agree on the K-12 finance bill, public safety bill — agree to nailing down 50 percent of the state budget.

“Take it off the table — done and done,” said Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo.

“And let’s focus on the other half (of the state budget),” she said.

Koch argued the earnestness of Republicans in finding a budget solution could be seen in fully meeting the governor’s position on K-12 funding instead of negotiating the amount.

Deputy Senate Majority Leader Geoff Michel, R-Edina, said there’s no need for increasing taxes.

“There’s no need for a shutdown,” he said.

Every economic indicator is flashing red, Michel said of the anemic economy.

But Dayton has expressed an unwillingness to take a piecemeal approach to settling the state budget

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