ST. PAUL -- More than 9,000 state employees were told to stay home yesterday and drivers found highway rest stops closed at the start of the busy Fourth of July weekend as a budget stalemate led to the first government shutdown in Minnesota history.
The Democrats, who control the state Senate, were locked in a standoff with Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty and the GOP-controlled House over how much to spend on schools and healthcare and how to pay for it.
As a result, the new fiscal year began yesterday, just after midnight, with only a partial spending plan in place.
''I'm frustrated and aghast," said Ellen Paquin, a clerical worker and 25-year state employee. ''We elected these individuals to do their jobs, and it's a complete failure."
Essential services such as the state patrol continued to function, and an 11th-hour agreement was reached to keep state parks open during the holiday weekend.
But drivers on one of the busiest travel days of the year found highway rest stops barricaded, and driver's license exam stations and other state offices were closed.
Nearly a fifth of the state workforce was told to stay home and either use vacation time or go without pay.
''I'd like to say I'm sorry to the people of Minnesota," said state Representative Rod Hamilton, a Republican. ''This is disgusting."
Pawlenty said yesterday that he was not aware of any major problems caused by the shutdown but added that his office was fielding angry calls from locked-out workers.
''I'm willing to suspend my schedule for the Fourth of July and be here," he said. ''It's going to take some leaders to rise above this."
The shutdown led to finger-pointing by both parties.
The Democrats accused the governor of making shifting demands, and the Republicans charged that the Democrats wanted at least a brief shutdown to hurt Pawlenty as he prepares for a 2006 reelection campaign.
The Capitol has been beset with partisan gridlock in recent years. The Legislature has 101 Democrats, 99 Republicans, and one third-party member.
During the months of budget negotiations, the Democrats had sought a tax increase for upper-income residents. The Republicans fought that, with Pawlenty advancing the possibility of higher levies on cigarettes and a casino at a racetrack.