ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota's governor and top lawmakers sequestered themselves for a sixth straight day of budget talks Wednesday, under added pressure to break an impasse over the $5 billion deficit after a judge issued a bare-bones list of services that must be maintained if state government shuts down Friday.
A shutdown wouldn't affect critical functions like the State Patrol, prison guards, disaster responses and other essentials. But many services that Minnesota residents take for granted would be closed — including state park campgrounds on one of the summer's biggest holiday weekends, road projects at the height of the construction season and licensing for an array of new professionals from physicians to manicurists.
"This is going to be a tough shutdown, and people will notice," said David Lillehaug, an attorney representing Gov. Mark Dayton in the case. "Anyone who says that government doesn't do anything and doesn't do it well, upon reading this order ... they're going to realize they're very, very wrong."
Dayton, a Democrat, and top Republicans stopped talking publicly about negotiations days ago, saying they didn't want to jeopardize any progress. On Wednesday, legislative leaders swept in and out of Dayton's office, saying little to a pack of reporters and photographers outside.
The budget dispute dates to January, when Dayton became the state's first Democratic governor in 20 years and Republicans took over the Legislature for the first time in 38 years.
Republicans swept to power campaigning against tax and spending increases, while Dayton won on a message of raising taxes on the highest earners. A five-month legislative session, and intermittent negotiations since adjournment last month, have produced no visible progress.
With the politicians mostly silent, the most significant development Wednesday came from Ramsey County Chief Judge Kathleen Gearin. She weighed arguments from several parties on which services should be maintained in a shutdown, and ultimately sided mostly with Dayton's minimalist list.
Gearin found that some programs, such as horse racing and child care aid programs not directly tied into the federal welfare system, were important but did not rise to the level of critical services.
The judge said state payments to cities, counties and schools would continue, as would enough money to keep Dayton's office and the Legislature running with at least skeletal crews. She ordered that the state keep welfare, food stamp and Medicaid health care programs operating.
Republican leaders either declined to comment on the ruling or said they hadn't seen it. Dayton praised it and said he still hopes for a budget deal.
"I would much prefer a fair and balanced budget solution, rather than a government shutdown," he said in a statement.
Gearin named former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz as a referee to rule on unclear areas of funding in a shutdown.
Dayton and lawmakers have been in secretive negotiations for nearly a week with no breakthrough. The governor said a day earlier that Wednesday would be a critical day if they are to prevent a shutdown.
Republicans have pressed him to call them into special session to pass some parts of the budget and measures to prevent a shutdown. Dayton has ruled out a special session until he and the Republicans agree on the overall budget.
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