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Hands Off the Surplus, Ventura Declares
by Michael Khoo
February 2, 2000
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Governor Jesse Ventura says he'll offer Minnesota businesses some relief from contributions to the state's workers' compensation fund. Last night in an address to the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, the governor said he'd take advantage of a $500 million surplus in the workers' comp program. Ventura says he'll be more prudent with projected surpluses in the state's general fund.

THE MINNESOTA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE lists health care reform among the top priorities for employers in the state, and last night, Ventura was ready to oblige. The strong economy has left $500 million excess dollars in the state's workers' compensation fund. Ventura says that money should go back to the people who paid it in.
Ventura: You know that employers in this state pay 30 cents for every dollar of benefit in the work comp system. My proposal is that most of this money stay in the work comp system and be used for an immediate one-third reduction in employer costs.
The audience was quick to embrace Ventura's proposal, but Speaker of the House Steve Sviggum is more cautious. Sviggum says consumers as well as employers have a legitimate claim to part of the money. But he says House Republicans believe the surplus should be returned in some form.
Sviggum: I don't think we're going to leave a pot of money laying around for a couple of years.
But leaving a pot of money untouched is exactly what Ventura proposes for the more familiar general fund surplus - now estimated at $1.6 billion. Ventura says about one-third of that money is already in hand and could fund another sales-tax rebate this year, similar to last year's. But he says the remainder of the surplus is only a projection and should be taken off the negotiating table until it materializes.
Ventura: If I believed in projections, I wouldn't be the governor. So I think my message is clear. To me a surplus is there when it's real money, not a projection, not what someone says we're going to have a year and a half from now. But when it's money in the bank. Then it's there.
Ventura says he'll resist lawmakers who attempt to spend the surplus on supplemental budgets during a non-budget legislative session. But the governor's strict timetable is becoming a frustration for some legislators who see pressing needs requiring additional funding. DFLer Tom Pugh is the House Minority Leader.
Pugh: There'll be tax rebate. A pile of money set aside to talk about later - a year from now. Transportation goes unattended with any investment in that year. Education goes unattended with any investment in that year. You've seen the legislators, I think, here talking about the issues that concern you. But a governor that may stand in the way of any investment and perhaps any permanent tax relief this session.
DFL Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe says investment in education is particularly critical. In an appeal to the Chamber's membership Moe said additional funding for schools could alleviate the shortage of skilled workers.
Moe: I would guess that you would want us to focus on those kinds of investments, those kinds of strategies that address your number-one issue which is making sure that our workforce continues to ratchet up its skill levels.
While Ventura holds the line on spending and Democrats call for more "investments," Republicans are pulling in a third direction. Sviggum says the House majority will seek income tax reductions for the second straight year.
Sviggum: When we have dollars available in the surplus, it seems to be reasonable to say we should continue to make those moves to cut the taxes on the working people of the State of Minnesota.
And later today, Senate Republicans will announce alternative tax cuts.