ST. PAUL, Minn. —An end to Minnesota's nearly three-week-long state government shutdown came into view on Tuesday, when Gov. Mark Dayton called the Legislature into a special session to vote on a budget deal.
The 19-day government stoppage has sullied Minnesota's good-government reputation, while disrupting lives and businesses around the state.
It will be over only after both chambers of the Republican-controlled Legislature approve nine budget bills and Dayton, a Democrat, signs them into law. Legislative leaders and Dayton agreed before the votes began to limit the scope of the special session and lawmakers' ability to tinker with the bills in an effort to keep the budget pact from unraveling once 200 legislators get involved.
Both chambers came to order shortly after 3 p.m., immediately broke for several hours, then started passing budget bills around dinner-time. Within two hours, both the House and Senate had sent five of nine budget bills to Dayton: spending for courts and public safety; colleges and universities; environment and energy programs; transportation; and jobs and economic development programs.
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Dayton's chief of staff said the governor would wait to sign the budget bills until all nine are on his desk.
The government stoppage idled 22,000 state employees, halted road work at the height of a short construction season, suspended lottery ticket sales and some services to the vulnerable and even interrupted the flow of alcohol to some bars. It was softened by court rulings requiring the state to keep paying schools, local governments and health care program costs.
The shutdown resulted from a months-long standoff between Dayton and Republicans legislative leaders over taxes and spending.
The final budget bills don't contain the income tax increases Dayton sought, after Republicans refused to budge on that front. But they spend more than the GOP wanted to and rely on borrowed money from school districts and a stream of tobacco settlement payments to help close a $5 billion deficit.
Passage of the entire set of budget bills isn't guaranteed. A crop of Republican newcomers in the Legislature strongly opposed adding any revenue to the budget beyond the $34 billion the state was already projected to take in over two years. Others were upset that some social issues that had been on the table were removed as one of Dayton's conditions for a deal.
Some GOP lawmakers have refused to say how they plan to vote on the bills or ducked the question altogether.