Concerns about shutdown grow

Published 4:57 pm Saturday, July 9, 2011

Christina Sforza rings up a customer at Ankeny's Mini-Mart No. 1 in Austin Friday. Signs at Ankeny's and other local gas stations warn the state will not be selling or redeeming lottery tickets during the government shutdown. -- Amanda Lillie/

The Minnesota state government has been shut down since 11:59 p.m. on June 30, and will remain that way until a budget agreement can be reached. In the mean time, many area residents and businesses are feeling the effects.

From first-time drivers who can’t get a driver’s license, to lottery regulars who can’t buy tickets and fishing shops that are out revenue because they can’t sell fishing licenses, the shutdown is hitting home. Here are some examples.

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Cassidy Mayer is excited to take her driver’s license test in August. The 15-year-old Austin High School student wants to drive so she can do the normal teenage things: hang out with friends, have some mobility, have some freedom and possibly give her parents a heart attack.

Yet she could have sour grapes on her sweet 16th birthday. If the state, shut down until a budget is passed, doesn’t open Department of Motor Vehicle offices, Mayer won’t be able to take her driving test.

“(I’m) kind of mad,” Mayer said. “It’s not really fair for us. We can’t do anything about it.”

She’s not the only one affected, as teens and people who recently moved here won’t be able to test for their license any time soon.

“We people, we are the ones who receive the consequences of the government’s actions,” said Mahuzon Boko, a new resident to Austin. Boko moved to the U.S. eight months ago from Benin, a small African nation next to Nigeria. He will start school at Riverland Community College in August, but he’s going to have difficulty getting around if he can’t test for his license soon.

Boko and his friends recently bought a car together to drive and hoped to take the driver’s test last Thursday. When they arrived at the local DMV, they were disappointed to find it closed.

“All of this affects my progress, my evolution in this country,” Boko said.

Other recent immigrants are facing similar problems, according to Jake Vela, executive director of the Welcome Center. While the Welcome Center isn’t affected, they are helping people figure out how the government shutdown affects them.

“We’re seeing an influx of people come in,” Vela said.

No winners

With the state shutdown in its 10th day, lottery enthusiasts are hurting, and so are some local gas stations.

Lottery tickets haven’t been available since 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, June 30, and no tickets will be validated or paid during the shutdown.

Jan Heim, owner of Ankeny’s Mini-Mart No. 1, said many lottery players are irritated they can’t buy tickets. Some have threatened to buy their tickets in Iowa.

“A lot of people say they’ll just go to Iowa,” Heim said. “Then our money is going to another state.”

Heim’s store is the top seller of lottery tickets in Austin, she said. Stores receive 5 percent of lottery ticket sales, but Heim said the small amount adds up.

“All my regulars still come in, but instead of spending 20 bucks, they spend five,” she said.

Heim has gotten complaints from patrons who have been playing the same Powerball numbers for years and are afraid their numbers will be called during the shutdown when they don’t have easy access to tickets.

“Now their big complaint is that they’ll draw their number and they won’t be able to win,” she said. “That would be their luck.”

She has also heard customers complaining that Powerball prices are going to double — from $1 to $2 — come January 2012. The jack-up in the price isn’t shutdown related, though.

Most of all, Heim said, her patrons are more upset about the Legislature’s inability to come to a budget agreement than about not being able to buy lottery tickets.

Heim reported customers saying, “If (legislators) can’t do their jobs, why should we have to pay state taxes?”

Other stores in Austin aren’t seeing much of a change due to the lottery being shutdown. Crissy Busker, gas station attendant at Ankeny’s Mini-Mart No. 5, said she hasn’t encountered any upset patrons during the day hours she works.

“With being right off the freeway, it’s hard to notice anything,” Busker said. “If we were located in town, maybe we’d be seeing a sales decrease.”

“The regulars still come in. It’s not affecting us as a store; we can live without it,” she added.

When government operations resume, retailers will again sell tickets for all games and pay prizes up to $599. Players holding winning tickets worth $600 to $30,000 will be able to redeem them at any lottery office or by mail. Prizes of more than $30,000 will need to be claimed in person at Lottery Headquarters in Roseville, Minn.

Up a creek

Bait and tackle sellers have been hit by the sate shutdown, and they’re seeing what’s happening on the other side of the fence for their customers, too.

Because these businesses can’t sell fishing licenses, they’ve seen many out-of-state anglers walk away upset, unaware Minnesota’s government is shut down.

Steven Volkart, owner of S & S Bait Shop in Spring Valley, has been hit hard, as his store is dedicated strictly to fishing and outdoors. The Fourth of July was bad for sales, and his sales are still down.

“You don’t get the traffic flow,” Volkart said, and added a lot of his customers stop in before they go to Forestville or Lake Louise state parks. Because the parks are closed, the customers aren’t stopping.

“The big thing is the capacity of the parks,” Volkart said. “Closing the state parks down is a major bad thing for me.”

Outdoorsman also cannot buy hunting permits, and according to Volkart, many of his customers will be gearing up for bow hunting season toward July’s end.

Jay Nicolin, owner of Sportsman Stop in Waseca, said he could’ve sold a lot more fishing licenses over the holiday weekend, too, as a lot of out-of-state visitors passed through.

“There’s a lot of people coming out of state not knowing about (the shutdown),” he said, and added one customer who wanted to fish was coming from California. Volkart also had long-distance vacationers come from San Antonio, Texas, on their way to northern Minnesota. According to Volkart, those customers and many other out-of-staters are heading for Wisconsin. Furthermore, he said, some customers may be fishing without licenses, even though the game wardens are still checking.

“I had a lot of guys come in and say, ‘Hey, we’re going fishing anyway.’”

Though Nicolin wasn’t sure if his customers were fishing without licenses, he said many looked rather confused as to why they couldn’t fish.

“A lot of them, they question whether they can fish or not,” he said.

Nicolin said the inability to sell licenses hasn’t hurt his business too bad. However, there is a chance he could have lost a few add-on sales.

“It’s a service we offer to bring people to our store,” he said.

Nicolin is most concerned about the people who cannot fish, and all the money the state may lose.

“It’s not a huge revenue loss for us; it’s a huge loss for the DNR.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.