Furloughed workers Heather Betts and Alice Smith
SAINT PAUL, Minn. -- Thousands of laid off state workers remained in limbo Independence Day, with no end in sight for Minnesota's government shutdown.
"I hope they reach a compromise soon," Heather Betts, a furloughed Dept. of Human Services employee, told KARE Monday.
"It's tough on our family," Betts continued, "I've got to rely on my husband to pay all the bills, and hoping and praying that we can just keep everything afloat."
Betts, who lives in White Bear Lake, is expecting her second child at the end of the month. She had hoped to draw a full paycheck until then. The short-term disability pay she receives on maternity leave covers only part of her salary.
She said her work as a training planner in the Disability Services division at DHS helps her understand why Gov. Mark Dayton has gone to the wall in negotiations with lawmakers to protect programs that would be cut in the human services bill he vetoed.
"A lot of people don't understand how important these services are, but the people out there that are receiving these services, they know how important they are," she explained.
"You know if they can't get up, they can't bathe themselves, they can't dress themselves, they can't feed themselves, they need help to do these things. This is to keep them from being fully institutionalized because they don't need to be."
Across town laid off Department of Education employee Alice Smith kept to her Independence Day tradition of a family cookout. She has logged 31 years with state, so she's weathered the ups and downs of budget crunches many times before.
That still doesn't make the 2011 version any easier. Most state workers will receive a partial paycheck at the end of next week, covering 56 hours. The earliest they can receive unemployment benefits is July 20th.
"I just paid my rent and I'm practically broke now," Smith remarked, "This next check is not going to be a full check, and I've never applied for unemployment so I don't know how that works."
She said she has become a financial life raft at times for her extended family, which has kept her from socking away savings for rainy days and shutdowns.
"I have family members here today, including my niece," she said, referring to her five-year-old grandniece at her side. "Her family was homeless for awhile, and I took care of them. So I just barely make it."
Smith also wondered aloud about the employers, military recruiters and colleges who rely on her to verify the names of persons who've received General Equivalency Degrees or GEDs. She said she's just as busy during the summer as she is during the school year.
"I help GED graduates obtain jobs, go into the military and go to college," she explained, "If I'm not there, there's no one there to verify that they have that diploma."
The holiday found the State Capitol locked up tight, with no sign of life indoors. Talks may resume Tuesday, on Day 5 of the shutdown.
As of midnight Governor Dayton's published schedule for Tuesday contained only one event, a live radio interview at Minnesota Public Radio at 7:00 a.m.
Former Vice President Walter Mondale and former Gov. Arne Carlson announced a press conference for 10:00 a.m. at Minneapolis City Hall, to share their suggestion for a solution.
Carlson, a Republican, often found himself at odds with the current Minnesota Republican Party during the Tim Pawlenty era at the Capitol because of deep cuts to the University system and Pawlenty's reliance on short-term budget fixes.
Carlson has never endorsed Gov. Dayton's proposed income tax increase for the state's wealthiest citizens. In 2010 he supported Independence Party gubernatorial candidate Tom Horner, who called for broadening the sales tax to clothing and some services.
Horner argued it would add long-term stability to the state's coffers, while acknowledging spending reforms would be required as well. His plan also hinged on lowering the overall sales tax rate.
Dayton ran on the platform of increased income taxes for the top five percent of the state's earners. During the session he pared that targeted income group down to the top two percent, those joint filers with taxable income of $280,000 per year or gross earnings of $300,000 per year.
In the final days of budget talks June 29th, he offered to drop his tax hike on the wealthy completely if Republican leaders could come up with $1 billion in other revenue.
Republicans offered $1 billion in non-tax revenue, including bonds repaid with future tobacco lawsuit settlement revenue and more "shifts" to public schools. Those are essentially I.O.U.'s which are paid back to schools during the next two-year cycle, in 2014-2015.
Their counter offer also included several policy initiatives that had been embedded in the spending bills Dayton vetoed, including abortion restrictions, bans on cloning research, vouchers for private schools and constraints on collective bargaining for public employees.
Dayton's final offer put the tax hike back on the table, but limited it to only those 7,700 Minnesotans who earn $1 million per year. Republicans rejected it, and criticized Dayton sharply for returning to his goal of tapping the wealthy for more revenue.
(Copyright 2011 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)