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Ventura Proposes First Budget
By Bob Collins
January 28, 1999

GOVERNOR JESSE VENTURA today submitted his first budget to the legislature. The document puts his imprint on state government that stresses support for education and reduced assessments to taxpayers.

For a Governor who was criticized during the 1998 campaign for not spelling out specifics of how he would govern and what his priorities are, the budget is the most in-depth glimpse yet into how Ventura translates his libertarian philosophy to the nuts-and-bolts of operating a state.

Ventura says the budget proposal focuses on reducing taxes Minnesotans pay. He recommends the state reduce general fund tax collections by over one-billion dollars; $600 million of that through permanent tax reductions. Ventura says he also wants to limit all spending increases to the rate of inflation. "I have eliminated some spending that is 'nice' to better do what is 'necessary'," Ventura said.

In his budget, Ventura follows through on a campaign promise to reduce K-12 class sizes. He proposes a $561 million increase in funding with $150 million allocated to reduce classroom sizes in K-3. Ventura says that will improve student achievement. $372 million is provided for operating funds for schools.

Ventura also suggests spending $6 million on a sliding fee breakfast program for elementary schools, and increases in special education, and english proficiency classes.

Ventura's belief in a limited government role is reflected primarily in his budget for Family and Early Childhood Education, which he funds at its current level. His initiatives include funding after-school activities, and requiring screening before children enter kindergarten. He also proposes a cutback in state spending for the Basic Sliding Fee child care program, but makes up for most of it by using a Temporary Assistance to Needy Families federal block grants.

The state's higher education system receives an increase in spending at an annual rate of 2.5%.

Ventura's budget plan returns all of the surplus revenues from the current biennium , in the form of a sales tax rebate worth $1.087 billion. But Ventura also promises $1.372 billion in permanent and one-time tax cuts during the next two years. The sales tax rebate, which is favored by DFLers in the state, would return a maximum of $2,000 for those filing married-joint, qualified widows and head of household; and $1,000 for those filing single or married-separate returns. The average rebate will be $775 if filing joint or head of household and $390 if filing single.

Ventura also plans permanent income tax reductions, but they do not go as far as House Republicans have asked. Among the proposals:

  • Elimination of the "marriage penalty" in Minnesota's tax structure. Under current law the tax bracket for a married couple is nearly double the bracket for single taxpayers.
  • Reduction of the lowest tax rate from 6% to 5.8% for 1999 returns and 5.75% the year after.
  • Increase of the upper-end of the lowest taxable income bracket so that taxpayers can earn more money before they have to pay a higher marginal tax rate.
  • Reduction of the motor vehicle registration tax for passanger vehicles effective with renewals after December 31, 1999. The Governor sets a maximum rate of $75 on yearly registrations.
  • Exempting the production of television commercials from sales tax.
  • Exempting state hospitals and state veterans' homes from the sales tax.
  • Replacing the capital equipment sales tax refund process with an up-front exemption for purchases made on or after July 1, 2000.
  • Repeal the June accelerated tax payments for payments due June 2000. The accelerated method was adopted in 1982 to shift revenues in the state budget by moving a large share of sales and excise tax collections from July into June of the previous state fiscal year.
The budget reflects Ventura's campaign promises to reform state government. But the administration admits most of Ventura's specific proposals won't be unveiled until later in the year. Still, the budget outlines several reforms:
  • Eliminating the Metropolitan Area Vehicle Emission Inspection program.
  • Refocusing the state's K-12 education agency, changing the name to the Department of Education, Children, and Families.
  • Eliminating the Citizen's Council on Voyageur's National Park and the Board of Government Innovation and Cooperation .
  • Moving patients from Regional Treatment Centers to community and institutional settings.
  • Converting the Minnesota Zoo from a state agency to a private non-profit or local government entity.

Ventura campaigned in 1998 by calling on Minnesotans to serve their country through military service. He often cited his role as a Navy SEAL. But, in his budget, he cuts the budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs almost in half. Other state initiatives slated for cutbacks include public broadcasting, and the Amateur Sports Commission,

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