Peterson: Minn. shutdown reveals parties hurting their own constituencies

Ryan Peterson

More than two weeks ago in Minnesota, two factions came to an impasse while discussing a $5 million gap in their state’s budget. Democrats and Republicans railed against each other. One party claimed to be for the furtherance of business interests and “responsible spending.” The other claimed to be the party of the people. The Republicans wanted to cut social spending and limit the state expenditures to $34 billion over the next two years, while Democrats wanted to tax cigarettes or temporarily tax the wealthiest citizens to generate a $1.4 billion buffer. They each offered justifications for their positions and refused to brook compromise, believing it amounted to corruption.

In the two weeks since their failure to compromise shut the state government down, the two parties have only met once — and then for less than thirty minutes — to discuss ways to end the shutdown. While each side holds the opinion that it has given in to the majority of its opposition’s requests, neither is yielding any real ground. As a result, each side is continuing to blame the other, but neither side is working toward a solution. While 22,000 state employees have lost their jobs and their state is in turmoil, they continue to collect paychecks. They do this even though they’re not even coming to session. 

Let’s start with “Grand Old Party,” which defends business and demands responsible spending. They seem incapable of following their own principles. As the shutdown continues, business licenses have expired, forcing shutdowns. Liquor licenses have also expired, and many restaurant owners cannot renew them. Trucking company owners who need to license their trucks have no means of registering them.

The Republicans’ business-owning constituents, the very ones they refuse to budge in order to protect, are being shut down by people elected to represent their party’s interests. Their “responsible spending” creed has led them to smack down a tax on cigarettes that could raise more than $1.4 billion for the state.

While Republicans lecture their opponents about responsible spending, the state continues to lose money. With over 300 camp sites and over 100 state parks closed there are fewer tourists spending money in the state, lower gas sales, more vacancies in hotels, no revenues from fishing or hunting licenses fees and no gambling revenues. Every dollar spent in keeping these sectors open generates three dollars the state. The flow of that cash slowing to a trickle can’t mean anything good for the state. Billions are being lost as the state remains closed. More money is lost with time. After two weeks of waiting, one begins to wonder when the government will open again. As the state’s coffers drain, its credit rating is being destroyed and the free-enterprise enthusiasts the GOP claims as its own are being strangled by the market’s invisible hand.

The Democratic Party shares equal blame with the GOP. Education and health care programs have shut down and remain closed; virtually all social services have been stopped. More than 100 construction projects on Minnesota roads have been stopped. Administrators of services such as Arc Minnesota, which helps the disabled, have had to lay off 90 percent of their work force. Those who need the aid of the party’s pet programs the most are the ones being harmed by its distinctly apolitical actions. As it continues its failure to negotiate and act, the problem grows more dire for those who depend on the state’s aid. In an effort to get everything they want, both parties are running their respective bases into the red.

As the budgetary impasse continues, state drivers’ licenses won’t be issued, funding for education won’t be provided and courts will continue to be selectively closed. Each of the political parties defends its actions and excoraites the other’s, but this is not the time for blame. What happened two months or two weeks ago doesn’t matter anymore. What matters is getting the state running for those who need it, from the immigrants who need social aid to the business people who need the government’s cooperation to function. We need politics and action to solve the problem, not factions and feuds.