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Colleges prepare for possible shutdown

Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system trustees today voted to prepare for a state government shutdown, followed by 90-minute meeting between Republican legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton that resulted in no budget progress.

State government is about three weeks from shutting down due to lack of a budget, and the latest negotiations resulted in no progress beyond what Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said was "a better understanding" of some issues.

In an "emergency" shutdown meeting, MnSCU trustees unanimously ordered its staff to prepare for a potential shutdown. Ironically, the 54-campus system has enough money to remain open through the fall term, but other state agencies that control the money and operate computer systems could be shut down July 1 if lawmakers and Dayton do not agree to a budget by then.

Without access to its money, MnSCU would be forced to close.

MnSCU officials will ask the Dayton administration to allow Minnesota Management and Budget to write check to workers and to pay bills if there is a shutdown. However, that decision may end up in the hands of the courts, which would decide what services are so essential that they would continue even without a budget.

Lacking an agreement, MnSCU will send notices to 6,000 of its 15,000 workers this week saying they could be laid off if there is a shutdown. The notices are required by union contracts.

Two hours after the MnSCU meeting, Dayton and GOP leaders separately talked to reporters after a 90-minute meeting of their own. Neither side could report progress toward a budget deal.

Dayton said he will not sign a bill spending $34 billion in the next two years, Republicans' upper limit. His latest offer was for a $35.8 billion budget. Dayton and Republicans who control the Legislature also disagree how money is spent within the budget.

Legislators ended their regular session on May 23 without a budget deal. Republicans approved budgets, without Democratic-Farmer-Labor support, and Dayton vetoed them. Only a measure funding agriculture programs is in place.

Current funding runs out for most programs June 30, setting up a July 1 shutdown.

"We're going to keep meeting, we are going to keep working," Senate Deputy Majority Leader Geoff Michele, R-Edina, said.

Dayton said he, too, is willing to keep meeting, but said he is not optimistic about avoiding a shutdown until Republicans show a willingness to compromise.