We’re on the 11th day of a state shutdown, and that’s not a good thing.

The free market–people freely buying and selling goods and services to meet their needs and fulfill their wants–is but one institution in the good life. The family creates the next generation and provides socialization in ways that make us all get along. Faith communities help us explore the mysteries of spiritual life. Voluntary associations of all sorts help provide opportunities for service, learning, camaraderie, and so forth.

Government has important functions. To quote from one famous document of the American founding, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

It is true that life goes on even as Minnesota government is “shut down.” But that doesn’t make the shutdown something to be applauded. This next statement may not win me even a golf-clap from some of my friends, but the good of the people of Minnesota is served by a functioning State of Minnesota. Not necessarily one that does everything it tries to do today, but one that does not operate under the current ambiguity.

During its session and afterwards, the Legislature has made some miscalculations, including not offering up a lights-on bill when it was still in session. Some would argue that it should have insisted on significant budget cuts. Instead, it has kept giving … and giving … and giving, at least on the spending side. It has already agreed to spend every last penny (or nearly so) that comes into the treasury, and has offered to revoke a few minor tax cuts it had passed. All of this is, at best, a mild form of fiscal restraint, but not a draconian reduction of the size and scope of government.

Gov. Dayton, meanwhile, wants higher tax rates, in a belief that appears to be nearly religious in its conviction and its moral claim. So he vetoed almost all spending bills presented to him, and from what I can tell, has not done much if anything to work with the Legislature.

As a result, Minnesota is the only state out of the 50 United States without a functioning budget. Even California and New York, which are as close to “failed states” as any states in this country, have been able to cobble together budgets. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has warned that state workers may face layoffs. In California, Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat once derided as “Governor Moonbeam” (when he was governor during the 1970s) has signed off on a state budget that puts general fund sending at “the lowest level in decades.” As a share of the state’s economy, “decades” means 1972-1973. You might have heard of the guy who was governor of the state then. His name was Ronald Reagan. (Reagan and Jerry Brown in the same paragraph? Who would have thought?) Brown also says the state has addressed three-quarters of its structural deficit.

OK, so I’m citing  Brown’s press release, which of course will be self-serving. But there’s a lesson in here: If two Democratic Party stalwarts such as Andrew Cuomo (son of former governor Mario Cuomo) and Jerry Brown (son of former governor Pat Brown) can embrace fiscal responsibility, why can’t our own DFL governor? The public, and public employees, deserve better.

For more on this topic, I recommend a commentary written for the Star-Tribune by Annette Meeks. I’ve been clued into the situation in California and New York by it, and it has some other goodies as well. Be sure also to check out the site State Budget Solutions, headed by my friend Bob Williams, a former legislator in the state of Washington. The site has a weekly update on what’s going on across the country (here’s the latest edition) and a page for each state (including Minnesota). Today’s home page contains a link to Williams’ statement on the shutdown.