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Minnesota Government Shuts Down

July 4th, 2011

photo credit: Jim Mone/AP

Minnesota Government Shuts Down

July 4, 2011 — The state of Minnesota shut down parts of its government on Friday until lawmakers could compromise on the best way to manage that state’s money (called a budget ), and figure out how to save a whole lot of it too.

Each of the 50 states and the national government collects taxes from its citizens –usually a percentage of what people earn from their jobs, called income tax, though there are other kinds of taxes, too.  In exchange for everyone having access to things like roads, health services, police protection, help if you lose your job, parks to relax in and zoos to visit, you give a portion of the money you earn from your job.

For example, if you earn $100 in the U.S., the government gets roughly $30 of that. It’s much more complicated than that but that’s the idea. When you add it all up, it’s millions and often billions of dollars. In the case of the federal government it’s trillions of dollars. The basic idea of a government budget is to balance what they spend with how much they collect. But sometimes it doesn’t work out that way.  Minnesota spent more than it collected by $5 billion.

Minnesota lawmakers then either had to decide to collect more taxes or figure out what not to pay for. Some argue that the government shouldn’t cut services. And some already feel like they contribute too much money to taxes. There’s lots of debate and not much agreement on the best way to go about it, so it gets tricky.  And, in this case, they couldn’t agree before the deadline. So, as of this writing, they are in their fourth day of the shutdown.

Shutdowns are actually pretty rare and when they do happen it’s usually not for long. Minnesota shut down in 2005 for nine days, which is the longest one in the last decade. Michigan shut down for just 2 hours in 2009. And it’s happened to Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Jersey, and Tennessee for lengths of time in between.

photo credit: Reuters

But, in these cases, it’s the “non-essential” parts of the government that shut down first in order to start saving money immediately.  So things like granting fishing licenses and highway rest stops are counted as “non-essential”, while things like police and fire departments are considered “essential”. But there are lots of gray areas in between. The zoo was closed at first and then they made an exception for it.

Still, letting it get this far makes some people pretty unhappy, and disappointed in their elected officials, too. It also means that over 23,000 Minnesotans who work for the government have temporarily lost their jobs and aren’t getting paid.

And those families who had plans to celebrate the 4th of July by camping in state parks got turned away. Some people thought the shut down should have at least waited until after a celebratory long weekend.

Hopefully, there will be a resolution soon for Minnesotans to start celebrating about.



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