June 13, 2011; Source: Minnesota Public Radio | Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson has filed a petition in Ramsey County Court to continue funding for core government services in response to a possible government shutdown. Swanson’s argument is that a shutdown “would deprive Minnesota citizens of rights guaranteed under the state and federal constitutions.”

Examples of core government functions with nonprofit overtones include mental health treatment facilities, group homes, home healthcare services, emergency and disaster services, veterans homes, and much more. Interestingly, one of the core functions that Swanson argues must be maintained during a shutdown is “prompt payment of amounts owed to employees, vendors, and contractors.” But those are just examples.

The AG’s petition suggests that the court select a special master who would determine what should and should not be funded during a shutdown. Governor Mark Dayton plans his own petition to the court outlining core services that should be continued during a shutdown, but some nonprofits may do the same.

The last time Minnesota faced an impending shutdown, 50 nonprofits filed their own statements as to why they should be supported as core functions. Some state legislators might weigh in on their own, such as Rep. Ryan Winkler (D-FL) who has already said that the AG’s arguments are too broad and inclusive regarding what he thinks should be seen as core functions.

State governments fund their own program activities and fund nonprofits to deliver crucial human services. How the courts – and a cantankerous legislature – determine what should be continued during the shutdown will contain a big message to the nonprofit sector.—Rick Cohen