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Minnesota asks courts to allow some spending in shutdown

ST. PAUL - Minnesota's attorney general today asked courts to allow some state operations to continue if there is a government shutdown on July 1.

Attorney General Lori Swanson filed paperwork in Ramsey County District Court seeking permission to fund programs that affect "the life, health, safety and liberty" of Minnesotans even if there is no state budget.

Swanson did not spell out what should remain open if a budget impasse continues, but gave some strong hints.

The state cares for nearly 1,300 mentally ill Minnesotans, Swanson said, and "without a state budget or court order providing for the continued care of patients, they would either have to be released or left unattended in state facilities."

Also, she said, about 9,000 people in Minnesota prisons need continual guarding, food and other services. Another 20,000 offenders on supervised release in the community, including 1,200 high-risk criminals, need to be monitored by probation officers, the attorney general said.

The 616 sex offenders who have been committed to state hospitals are dangerous and likely to reoffend if not supervised, Swanson said. But they could be released from state care in a shutdown unless the court acts, she wrote.

More than 750 military veterans could lose care in the state's five veterans' home, Swanson warned.

The attorney general also warned that state troopers, criminal investigators and emergency management personnel may not be working.

More than 600,000 low-income Minnesotans, such as the elderly and disabled, receive state-funded medical care and could lose that without a state budget deal, Swanson wrote. That number includes Minnesotans in nursing homes.

While taxes are required to be paid even without a new tax law, the state may not be able to collect those taxes, Swanson said, "further jeopardizing the state's fiscal situation."

"The relief requested is limited and temporary in nature," Swanson wrote. "The relief sought would only permit the continued operation of the core functions of the government entities" as required by state and federal constitutions and courts.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that "states cannot abridge or ignore the constructional rights of their citizens simply because funding has not been appropriated," Swanson said in the court document.

A shutdown is being discussed because the Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton have not agreed on a budget for the two years beginning July 1. Only agriculture programs have been funded, and even they may be hampered because other parts of state government are involved the Agriculture Department's funding.

There were no high-level budget talks on Friday, over the weekend or today. There was no word when Dayton and GOP leaders will meet again.

All Dayton administration agencies have prepared shutdown plans, although state officials refuse to release them to the public. Those plans are expected to form the basis for what Dayton and Swanson ask the courts to keep open.

In her document asking the courts to get involved, Swanson said that while on one hand the state Constitution requires the Legislature to appropriate money before it can be spent, on the other hand state constitutional officers are required to fulfill their duties, and money is needed to do that.

There was no immediate indication about when the courts may take up Swanson's request.