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Anger, finger-pointing highlight first day

Shutdown follows months of budget bickering

By Brian Bakst

Associated Press

ST. PAUL -- More than 9,000 workers were idled Friday in the first day of a partial state government shutdown. Finger-pointing by both parties stood in the way of a quick solution to a budget impasse that has dragged on for months.

With essential services like the State Patrol continuing to function, and some partial budget bills passed earlier, many Minnesotans could shrug off the shutdown. The most visible sign was the closure of most highway rest stops on a big holiday travel day.

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But those directly affected were bitter and angry.

"I'm frustrated and aghast," said Ellen Paquin, a clerical worker and 25-year state employee who said she worried about paying her mortgage. "We elected these individuals to do their jobs and it's a complete failure. It's a failure of the House and the Senate and the governor. The governor is supposed to be leading, and I don't see any leadership there."

If state employees were upset, legislators were, too.

Civility began breaking down Thursday night in a tense lead-up to a midnight shutdown deadline. By Friday morning, the Republican minority in the Senate tried unsuccessfully to force a leadership change, then complained that a new plan for a 10-day stopgap spending measure was too little and too late.

"We don't trust you guys any more. The trust has been broken down," said Sen. Tom Neuville, a Northfield Republican. "The damage is done in terms of public relations."

Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson said he hoped the first gridlock-induced government shutdown since Minnesota became a state 147 years ago would be over in a matter of hours.

"We need to fix it today," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, a one-day partial government shutdown is enough."

He gave a new proposal to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and said he hoped to resume talks with the Republican governor and the GOP leader of the House on a permanent budget. Minnesota's two-year budget expired Friday with only a partial budget plan in place for the next two years. State agencies without new spending authorization either shut down or got special protection from a court order.

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Pawlenty said he would set aside his personal frustrations and work toward a deal. "I'm willing to suspend my schedule for the Fourth of July and be here," he said. "It's going to take some leaders to rise above this."

More than 9,000 workers -- nearly a fifth of the state work force -- were told to stay home, either using vacation or going without pay. They will be officially laid off if the impasse extends beyond July 15.

House Speaker Steve Sviggum, a Republican, said he's anxious to get back to the table as well.

"Every day we have more state employees who will be losing pay and losing their benefits," he said. "That is a very significant pressure upon us."

Republicans maintain that Democrats wanted at least a brief shutdown to hurt Pawlenty as he prepares for a 2006 re-election campaign. The governor, they said, moved a long way toward Democratic budget demands only to get no for an answer.

"The moon could have been offered by the governor and it wouldn't have been acceptable because there was a desire to force him into the shutdown situation," said Sen. Gen. Olson, R-Minnetrista.

For his part, Johnson said he did all he could to avoid a shutdown but couldn't agree to Pawlenty's shifting requests.

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