For Minnesota Shutdown, A Deal Seems Distant

There is still no end in sight to the state government shutdown in Minnesota. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders remain far apart on how to balance the state's budget for the next two years. With the shutdown in its ninth day, unemployed state workers are increasingly anxious, and residents who rely on shuttered state services are increasingly frustrated. NPR's David Schaper reports.

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SCOTT SIMON, host: The government shutdown in Minnesota continues for a ninth day. Democrats and Republicans are still far from agreement on taxes and spending. As NPR's David Schaper reports from St. Paul, some state employees are getting anxious about just how long they might be out of work.

DAVID SCHAPER: For a young couple with a toddler supported by one state job, Janice and Joshua Neal say there is just one word to describe the Minnesota government shutdown.

JANICE NEAL: Scary.

JOSHUA NEAL: Scary. Just went online and applied for unemployment this morning.

SCHAPER: Thirty-two year old Joshua works at the Minnesota Department of Revenue, but is deemed non-essential, and is laid off.

NEAL: Unfortunately right now with the mortgage payments the way they are, they are looking at eating up about 80 percent of what I would making in unemployment. So that's - again, it's kind of scary. It doesn't leave a lot of breathing room for the rest of the bills or any necessities for little man here.

SCHAPER: Little man is 13-month-old Vinny, Joshua Neal is holding in his arms at a rally for laid-off state employees outside of the Minnesota State Capitol. While Neil wants both sides to compromise and break the budget deadlock, he supports Democratic Governor Mark Dayton's call for higher taxes on the wealthiest Minnesotans over the Republican approach to further cut spending, fearing that could eliminate his job.

Neil is far from alone in his worry. In addition to the 22,000 state government employees laid off, there are scores of state contractors and vendors who either already have or might soon lay off employees. That includes road and bridge builders, engineering firms, state government suppliers, and nonprofits that provide everything from educational and job training to social services for the state. But Minnesota Republicans remain steadfast in their demand for more spending cuts and no tax hikes. And 23-year-old Kevin Schulz agrees. After vigorously hiking through a shuttered state park, Schulz says Governor Dayton never should have let the budget battle go this far.

KEVIN SCHULZ: If it's to that point, then you got to look seriously at some cuts that need to be made, you know. If you get to the point where you're going to shut down the government, that's kind of an alarm going off.

SCHAPER: Schulz describes himself as center-right, not too far into the ditch on either side. And to be sure, he says there is plenty of blame for both parties here.

SCHULZ: You've got all kinds of people on both sides of the argument that are taking it way too far either way and they refuse to find some sort of common ground.

SCHAPER: And for Minnesota, that's something relatively new.

LARRY JACOBS: Minnesota nice, if it ever existed, is toast.

SCHAPER: University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs says Minnesota nice used to mean compromise, and compromise is now considered a weakness.

JACOBS: And it's particularly what's happened within each party. There's a much more hard-edged, take-no-prisoners attitude within the parties, and particularly the Republican Party.

SCHAPER: Jacobs says Democrats and Republicans here used to agree that while the state needed a certain level of fiscal restraint, taxpayers also needed to fund a somewhat generous level of government services - particularly for the poor. But now Tea Party Republicans believe that that only led to bigger and bigger government. Governor Dayton has made several compromise offers, each time offering deeper cuts in spending. And as long as he does that, Jacobs says Republicans see no need to meet him halfway. The GOP apparently sees little to lose in a protracted stalemate. Larry Jacobs says that could mean that Minnesota government might remain shut down for weeks, if not for much of the summer.

David Schaper, NPR News, St. Paul.

SIMON: You're listening to NPR News.

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