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Pioneer Editorial: Shutdown talks not warranted

The DFL-led Legislature and Gov. Tim Pawlenty could not agree on a biennium state budget in 2005, leading to a state government shutdown that July 1, bringing state government to its knees.

Only essential activities, as approved by an appointed Minnesota Supreme Court justice, could be carried through. Otherwise, all state employees were sent home and funding from all state programs suspended. It lasted only eight days before lawmakers and Gov. Pawlenty found budget agreement, but everyone decided that they would go to great lengths to prevent that in the future.

The details of that 2005 state government shutdown were reviewed Thursday by the Minnesota House Health and Human Services Finance Committee. The 20-minute recap told of how critical services were handled during the shutdown.

Committee Chairman Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, said he asked for the recap in order to lay the stakes on the table in order to avoid another crisis. The state faces a $6.2 billion budget deficit which lawmakers must solve between now and session end in May.

But we think the call unusual and provocative at best. Does it signal the unwillingness of the Republican Legislature to compromise with Democrat Gov. Mark Dayton? Is it follow the Republican budge scenario of cuts only to solve the budget dilemma or see another shutdown?

The committee had yet to begin any budget talks involving the $6.2 billion deficit, and yet discussions of government shutdown were put on the table. An ominous forewarning?

"It's alarming that House Republicans are already talking about government shutdown," said Rep. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul. "This kind of defeatist attitude is not the approach we need to solve our budget deficit, grow our economy, and support Minnesota families and small businesses."

Rep. Murphy suggests that a mood of compromise between the GOP Legislature and DFL Dayton must frame budget talks, not talk of digging in one's feet and calling for government to stand still until one side or the other blinks and hoists a white flag.

Should a government shutdown become a serious option in May, then preparations must be made. But let's not start the session off with that gloomy prediction. There is no need now to draw lines in the sand, and we hope that never does happen.