Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Pragmatic Lessons From a State Government Shutdown

Deal in hand, Minnesota Governor Dayton signed his state's budget bills into law and reopened his state's government 19 days after inaction shut it down.  It was the longest shutdown in U.S. history.

I saw this billboard in Minnesota during our family's vacation there in early July.  I experienced it too.

We tried to go to Itasca State Park where the headwaters of the Mississippi River are located and couldn't.  Closed.

My wife and I wanted to go fishing but couldn't get a fishing license.  I left the state, with my wallet not emptied from the cost of buying licenses.  The license-issuing agency wasn't open.

Nearly three weeks without a state government had even more impacts on Minnesotans than on visitors to the state.  Drivers couldn't renew their licenses to drive and bars couldn't renew there licenses to be bars.

Now that it's over, though, I hope someone documented the lessons.

Here's a few from my observation:

Lesson one:  Don't shut down the revenue-producing programs.  A third of the annual revenue from Minnesota's state park system comes in July.  Oops.  The tolls collected on I-35W from impatient commuters who are willing to pay to drive in the HOV lane went uncollected.  Fishing license revenue and alcohol sales were halted.  All lost, and most will not be recovered from pent-up demand.  Surely smart legislators and the Governor could have reached a partial budget deal and kept the places open that pay for themselves.

Lesson two:  Keep the websites running.  Who's great idea was it to put shutdown messages up in place of every website page?  That's what was done.  Want info on a state park?  Get a FAQ about the shutdown.  Most websites don't get updated that often anyway, so why bother shutting down websites.  That was clearly punitive, rather than necessary.

Lesson three:  Just remember that everyone lost.  Someone will try to declare victory.  I don't see it.  Didn't happen.  Billboards went up from both sides, allies of the Democrat Governor and allies of the Republican legislators, trying to brand the shutdown on one side or the other.  That's political campaign money wasted and I'm sure the voters, if they are anything like my in-laws, want to vote all of them out next chance they get. 

Lesson four: Consider the papacy's approach.  When the Roman Catholic cardinals need to pick a new Pope, they lock themselves in a room and don't let anyone out until they reach a final decision.  It's not a bad way to go if there was a shutdown of government.  Even if it's not real practical, neither is shutting down an entire state government for three weeks.

Lesson five: Government needs pragmatic leaders too.  This is the most important lesson of all.  Elections that produce extremes of either of both wings of our political parties result in stupid outcomes like the Minnesota government shutdown.  It's things like this government shutdown that show pragmatic leaders are the key to our entire system of government.  Long live pragmatism!

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