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Judge Rules: Essential Services

Aid to cities, school districts must continue, court rules.

State aid to cities and school districts must continue during a , according to a ruling Wednesday morning by Ramsey County District Court Judge Kathleen Gearin.

School Impacts

Today's ruling states that the Minnesota constitution requires a “general and uniform system of public schools” and that this provision makes funding education a critical core function of government. Consequently, it appears that education aid payments will continue to flow to school districts—those payments account for almost 80% of the Minnetonka School District's annual budget. 

At the same time, it appears that the ruling will accept most of Governor Mark Dayton's petition, which according to Scott Croonquist, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, "basically shuts down" the Minnesota Department of Education.  

According to Minnetonka Schools Spokeswoman, Janet Swiecichowski, “The MDE shutdown will most impact new teacher licensing, release of state test scores…But we do not expect any interruption to the start of school.”

Swiecichowski said that because most of the new teacher hiring is done in March and April, the school district has already been working to obtain licenses for any new Minnetonka teachers, in preparation for a possible state shutdown. 

City Impacts

Minnetonka receives little, if any, local government aid payments from the state each year. For that reason, according to Minnetonka City Manager John Gunyou, local residents will see almost no change in the services that the city provides, once the government shuts down. 

However, the city is still add odds with administration officials over the looming shutdown of , which MnDot will stop on July 1.

Under today's ruling, road construction would be suspended with a shutdown. Gearin wrote, "delay completion of present projects, increase costs...do not justify the Court ordering the funding of non-critical core functions." 

Gunyou predicts that such a delay to the project would cost Minnetonka taxpayers as much as $3.1 million. 

Other Impacts

Basic care for Minnesotans in prison, nursing and veterans homes, and state hospitals, will also continue to receive state funding, Gearin said in the ruling. She also appointed former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz as special master to hear petitions for state funding or services and make recommendations to the court.

Right now, a stalemate over Minnesota's looming $5 billion deficit means the state is headed towards . Because the regular legislative session ended without a budget deal, Dayton and Republican leaders now have until July 1 to reach a compromise.

Local Reaction

Sen. Terri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka) spent much of Wednesday at the statehouse, she said, to try to avoid a shutdown. 

"We must find compromise...we must avert a shutdown,” she said. “I don’t think we should call it yet. We’re getting towards the final rounds and there is still a possibility of a deal...There is still a way for it not to happen.”

Rep. Kirk Stensrud (R-42A/Minnetonka) told Patch that a shutdown would hurt Minnesota's state workers. 

"A shutdown would be like kicking a guy when he's down," he said. 

Dayton responded to Judge Gearin’s ruling by saying that she reached an appropriate conclusion, it was reported on the political blog Politics in Minnesota.

“It appears that her order arrived at the same middle ground as my administration, and essentially agreed with my list of critical services that must continue,” Dayton said in a statement.

More Details

According to local non-profit organization Minnesota Budget Project here is what stays and what goes:

Funding continued

  • Medicaid
  • Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (Food Stamps)
  • Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)
  • Basic custodial care for residents of state correctional facilities, regional treatment centers, nursing homes, veterans’ homes, and residential academies and other similar state-operated services.
  • Immediate public safety and health concerns
  • Benefit payments and medical services to individuals
  • Essential elements of government financial systems
  • Computer system maintenance, Internet security, issuance of payments and other administrative services
  • State aid to local cities and communities
  • Education funding
  • Care of animals and staff security at the Minnesota Zoo

Funding suspended (All other services. Particular attention was given to the following)

  • Horse racing
  • Nonprofit services that are not included as part of the critical core functions listed above.
  • Child care: Programs that are federally-funded through TANF will continue, but payments for all other non-TANF child care assistance will cease.
  • Construction: Keeping a bridge from collapsing is a critical core function, but Judge Gearin ruled that all other bridge and road work is not.   

For details of what will stay open and what will close, read the order portion of the ruling, which starts on page 16 in the PDF above.

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