ST. PAUL, Minn. —Instead of sending Minnesota's elected leaders into a frenzy of activity, the nation's only state government shutdown has deepened the political paralysis that led them to their budget standoff. Top Democrats and Republicans have given no sign when they will talk again about how to resolve the stalemate.
After blowing May and June deadlines to agree on a budget, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders have met only twice — once for less than 30 minutes — and have made no apparent progress since most of state government closed July 1. There's little sense of urgency, even with 22,000 state employees idled, 100 road projects stopped, 66 state parks barricaded, an assortment of services discontinued and the state's top credit rating tarnished.
The lack of action contrasts with what's been happening in Washington, where an Aug. 2 deadline to raise the debt ceiling has lawmakers scrambling for a deal that would keep the U.S. from a potential default on its debt.
While the consequences of the state's inaction hardly reach that scale, that's little consolation for public workers who won't be getting paychecks or people with disabilities who have lost social services.
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"My thoughts would just be to encourage them to continue to meet and talk and try to work on a compromise that will benefit the entire state of Minnesota," said Mary Nienow, who directs a child care advocacy organization, Child Care Works. She said her group is getting dozens of e-mails a day from families worried that they will lose their child care assistance.
The key players had one brief session at midweek that ended with the two sides accusing each other of taking a step backward. Speaking to reporters after each session, they have said nothing that suggests progress.
"Sometimes no news is good news, but in this case I'm not sure," said former Minnesota House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, who represented Republicans in budget talks from 2007 until 2009. "In this case, no news is no news because it means there probably is nothing to report and it means nothing is going on."
The courts have taken some of the worst sting out of the shutdown. Decisions by a judge and a special master have restored services like special education payments to schools, state aid for training for the blind, and emergency crisis aid for the poor. More such rulings are likely on the way.
The shutdown's effects are wide-ranging. It has closed historical sites and rest stops, shut down the state lottery, made it tougher to get a driver's license and halted the issuance of hunting and fishing licenses.
Much of the political dispute comes down to differences over how much to spend on health programs and social services and how to pay for it.