Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Blueprint

Ahead of the debt ceiling debate fomenting between Congress and the President, we have a more immediate, smaller-scale confrontation brewing in Minnesota:

Gov. Mark Dayton on Wednesday proposed a broad government shutdown that would touch every corner of the state and reach deep into Minnesotans' homes.

The governor's proposal -- which must still be ruled on by a judge -- would maintain critical services but close all state parks, the Minnesota Zoo, the state lottery and most state road projects by July 1, when the current state budget runs out. K-12 schools, local governments and health providers would no longer receive state payments.

Despite what he said would be the vast and enormous impact of such a shutdown, Dayton said Wednesday that a short government closure "still pales in comparison" to the impact of a Republican "all cuts" budget.

Eyeball to eyeball confrontations rarely work out well for anyone, and here's a situation that is jampacked with peril for both sides, but particularly for Dayton. Shutting down a government is a difficult thing to pull off. Just ask Newt Gingrich.

What's interesting to me is the involvement of the state judiciary in the process. Not only does a judge have to affirm the closings, but both houses of the Republican-run legislature have asked for a "referee" from the judiciary. Dayton has countered with a request for mediation.

I can't imagine any judge with half a brain wants to be the one to decide "Your school closes, your street gets cleaned."

Right now, this is an issue of brinksmanship: they have an entire week still to hammer out a budget compromise to close a $5 billion budget gap. Dayton wants to raise taxes modestly. Republicans Kurt Zellers and Amy Koch want savage budget cuts. 

Sound familiar? Borrowing money is an option, but Dayton seems determined not to have to kick the can down the road too far.

Dayton has a few images he can trot out, such as the fact that 600,000 elderly residents would lose health care, but the state's bison herds would all be tended to. 

Right? I'm not sure that Zellers and Koch would be able to live down that kind of reputation in the re-election campaign. I'm fairly certain Dayton would not.

The backdrop to all this, of course, is the constitutional dilemma the state courts would find themselves in. It's clearly unconstitutional for a judge to decide which programs should be funded and which should be starved. And yet, both sides are turning to the courts to save them from themselves.

Keep an eye on this, folks.