Little more than a week into his new administration, Gov. Tim Walz has been hit with his first major challenge, courtesy of the federal government. The partial shutdown, rapidly closing in on a month, is starting to hit states and those who depend on government services with consequences that could be severe should it last much longer.
Thankfully, Minnesota leaders on both sides of the aisle are doing what Washington should be doing — setting aside their ideological differences to present a united front to shield citizens from harm.
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, was at Walz's Tuesday news conference at the DFL governor's request, in a show of solidarity Minnesotans can take pride in. "Where we do agree, it's important to stand together," Daudt said, noting that at some point the Legislature may have to step in. So far the state has been able to cover the cost of myriad services and salaries that rely on federal funds, but within weeks it may need to seek emergency legislative appropriations. The alternative would be layoffs of the 3,000 federal workers here or reductions in services. Already 1,000 of those workers have filed for unemployment.
Walz is taking the rights steps, attempting first to determine the breadth and depth of impact for what is now the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. Federal funds course through a multitude of programs. One example: The federal tab for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program that helps feed 400,000 Minnesotans is $42 million — a month.
Finance Commissioner Myron Frans said total unreimbursed costs may already have topped $100 million, although his department is still developing hard numbers. Most troubling, perhaps, is his assessment that the shutdown could already be affecting economic growth. "Uncertainty is not good for the Minnesota economy," Frans said. "As a budget director, I'm concerned." Another worry: The state's Revenue Department has offered assurances that it is ready for the upcoming tax season, but Frans expressed concern about the IRS a few hours before the agency announced that it would be recalling about 60 percent of its workforce.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said that as part of the state's response, "we are researching our legal remedies to enforce commitments the federal government has made." Unfortunately, that may be required when faced with a president who has threatened months of shutdown as he seeks leverage in his standoff with congressional Democrats who also appear dug in.
Of special concern are the state's 11 tribal nations, who face more immediate harm from the prolonged loss of federal funds. Indian Health Services has already furloughed some staff, and tribes face other reductions. Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said the state has reached out to the tribes and is looking for ways to provide assistance.
Walz's message Tuesday should offer some sense of stability. For as long as the state can manage, he said, there will be no service cuts, no layoffs. "This is a state that won't leave anyone behind," he said, flanked by a small army of religious and community leaders, Daudt, commissioners, legislators and others.
Minnesota is fortunate in that it has strong reserves, united leaders and a determination to protect its citizens. But no state can for long expect to cover the federal government's share, and Minnesota taxpayers cannot be asked to assume that burden — particularly with no certainty of repayment.
The high-stakes brinkmanship in Washington has gone on long enough. In Walz's blunt language, it's time to "end this damn thing … . People's well-being is not leverage."