Restarting Minn. gov't more than flipping switch

July 17, 2011 - 3:29 PM

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota may soon have an end to its government shutdown, but re-starting the machinery of the state will probably take a few days.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders were aiming for a special session as early as Monday to finalize a deal struck late last week. If rank-and-file lawmakers sign off on the deal, it will end a shutdown that's the longest in recent U.S. history.

But for residents whose lives have been disrupted, the relief won't be immediate.

"It's not like we can just flip a switch," said Doug Neuville, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety, which has halted renewal of driver's licenses and vehicle tabs during the shutdown. The computer systems used to issue renewals take time to bring back online, and the services won't be immediately available, he said.

Same goes for closed rest stops and state parks. State budget office spokesman Jonathan Pollard said those must be cleaned and thoroughly checked before people can use them again. Road construction projects idled by the shutdown are likely to require safety checks before work can resume.

Licensing hang-ups for beer distributors could take several days to unsnarl as well, as returning state workers deal with backlogs that built up during the shutdown.

"It depends on the level to which the services were down," Pollard said. "If you have an agency that's mostly been up and functioning, it may be easier than if you have an agency that's been completely shut down."

The Dayton administration will likely consider the shutdown officially over once the governor signs new budget bills into law, Pollard said.

It's not clear yet when that might happen. The governor and Republican leaders agreed late Thursday to the framework of an agreement to end the shutdown, but details were being worked out over the weekend and Dayton's office said the earliest possible day for a special session to start would be Monday. Once a session starts, Republican leaders need to get the spending bills through the House and Senate and to Dayton's desk, which means getting rank-and-file Republicans to sign on to a deal that some will have a hard time with.

One big question after the last shutdown was whether state workers would be able to claim back pay for lost time.

But Michael Kuchta, spokesman for AFSCME Council 5, said a memorandum of understanding between unions and the Dayton administration before the shutdown granted laid-off workers the right to apply for unemployment with the understanding that they couldn't claim lost pay when recalled.

The state could still face lawsuits, however, from businesses and citizens who decide they were harmed by the shutdown.

Tom Hanson, who was former Gov. Tim Pawlenty's lead budget negotiator during the 2005 shutdown, said he hoped contingency plans drawn up then would serve the state well now.

"They are better prepared today, in 2011, than we were in 2005," Hanson said. "There are detailed plans for starting up government after a shutdown."

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Chris Williams contributed to this story from Minneapolis.