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State looks to lay off federally paid workers

ST. PAUL — Minnesota officials are trying to decide when to send layoff notices to state employees whose pay comes from the federal government.

"We are not in a position that we can fill gaps created by that political breakdown," said Tina Smith, the governor’s chief of staff, when talking about the federal government shutdown’s impact on the state.

In a Wednesday conference call with reporters, Smith and Commissioner Jim Schowalter of Minnesota Management and Budget said under union agreements the state must give many employees a 21-day notice before laying them off.

About 3,000 state workers are funded by federal funds, and the National Guard already has laid off 1,036 federal workers.

Major Gen. Rick Nation, commander of the state National Guard, said it is a "fairly significant impact" on his operation. The men and women already laid off are technicians.

Another 274 guard employees are union members and will receive a 21-day notice if the shutdown lasts long enough, the general said.

Even with the layoffs, Nash said guardsmen still will be able to respond to any natural or manmade disaster if the governor calls on them.

State officials said they are trying to figure out how the shutdown will impact state government.

"It will be an evolving situation," Schowalter said. "The problems that we know about today may not be the problems we have to respond to tomorrow."

Smith added: "There is no roadmap for what to do in a shutdown."

More than a quarter of the state budget comes from Washington, Smith said, including 60 percent of the Education Department money. That eventually could lead to problems funding programs such as school lunches.

Most funding issues are at least a month away, state officials said.

Union seeks reconsideration

The union trying to organize some Minnesota childcare providers has asked a federal court to reconsider its delay of the attempt.

A federal judge last month ordered AFSCME Council 5, the union organizing childcare providers, to not hold an election determining if providers want to join. Now, the union is seeking to change that after the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would take up a related Illinois case.

"An Illinois case about fair-share fees has absolutely no bearing on whether Minnesota child-care providers have the right to vote on a union," AFSCME’s Jennifer Munt said. "This legal challenge is another attempt by right-wing extremists to deny people their rights."

The federal judge’s September ruling indicated a Minnesota election should be stalled until the Illinois case is settled.

The union continues to talk about organizing to 12,700 providers who receive state subsidies. But several steps, including elections, are needed before that can happen.

Earlier this year, the state Legislature passed a bill, signed by Gov. Mark Dayton, to allow the vote.

Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, opposed the union’s new court request.

"While this legal process moves forward, I will continue to advocate for moms, dads and childcare providers who know that our precious children deserve better than to be caught in the middle of a power grab by big union bosses," Franson said. "Hardworking parents simply can’t afford the higher costs and fewer options unionization would impose on childcare."

Warehouse tax fought

The Minnesota Majority organization, known for seeking voter identification laws, is taking on a tax that even some of its supporters think should be reconsidered.

The Democratic-controlled Legislature earlier this year approved taxing goods stored in warehouses. It is to begin next April.

"Minnesota is the only state in the country with such a tax, putting Minnesota warehousing companies at a significant competitive disadvantage, as we highlighted here," a Minnesota Majority statement said, adding the tax puts jobs at risk.

The organization is gathering signatures for a petition asking the tax be overturned.

Democrats say the tax likely will be debated when the Legislature convenes early next year.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.