In the Spotlight

News & Features
On the Road for a Fight?
by Laura McCallum
February 2, 2000
Click for audio RealAudio 3.0

Governor Jesse Ventura touted his transportation funding package before the Senate Transportation Committee Wednesday. Many Senators support Ventura's transportation initiatives in general, but lawmakers also appear far more willing to challenge the governor this session.

THIS IS THE THIRD TIME the Governor has testified before a legislative committee. Last year, he made appearances to promote a one-house legislature and his telecommunications plan. Like his previous outings, Ventura read from a prepared statement and left his commissioners to answer questions. He outlined a plan to spend $275 million a year to cut auto license-tab fees and create a transportation fund to pay for road projects and mass transit. Ventura cautioned lawmakers against trying to repeal the $60 million approved last session for a light-rail line from Minneapolis to the Mall of America.
Ventura: Let no one mistake my determination. I am absolutely committed to breaking the 20 year old LRT log jam that has produced millions of dollars in studies and not one foot of progress. And I'm confident we will prevail again.
Senate Transportation Committee Chair Carol Flynn of Minneapolis assured the governor that the DFL-controlled Senate does not plan to revisit the light-rail issue, but some House Republicans have threatened to try to repeal the funding.

After Ventura left the hearing, DFL Senator Keith Langseth of Glyndon expressed the frustration of many rural legislators angered by Ventura's line-item veto of $10 million for bridge improvements after the last session adjourned.
Langseth: While I supported the light-rail proposal, I was rather furious that that counter-balance there - bridges - was vetoed, and I guess I would like to have told the governor that.
Ventura's transportation commissioner, Elwyn Tinklenberg, was left to defend the governor's last-minute vetoes, saying Ventura thought the last bonding bill was too expensive.
Tinklenberg: This was not to be taken as a message that somehow he was not supportive of local bridges or understood the need for bridge improvements across Minnesota, and that's why you see even though we have a very tight and very limited bonding proposal coming out of the administration, it does include significant investment in local bridges as a part of a state responsibility.
Because Ventura's transportation package is so sweeping - it will need to go before at least four committees in each chamber; a daunting task in a short session - and Senator Flynn says lawmakers may need to break it up into separate pieces to pass the key initiatives. But the chairman of the Metropolitan Council, Ted Mondale, warned lawmakers against, in his words, too much creativity with the governor's plan, saying Ventura might decide to walk away from the table. That prompted an angry response from Republican Senator Bill Belanger of Bloomington.
Belanger: Then it would be nice if he would quit trashing us every opportunity he gets.
Many lawmakers echo Belanger privately, saying they're far less willing to accommodate the governor's requests after getting burned by vetoes last year and listening to Ventura criticize the Legislature. That said, the Senate is still likely to support many of the Governor's transportation priorities.

DFL Senator Dean Johnson of Willmar, the newly-appointed chairman of the transportation budget division, says he agrees with the governor on cutting tab fees and balancing highway and transit funding, but he predicts Ventura's plan won't make it through the Legislature intact.
Johnson: No initiative ever breezes through, the governor has simply taken step one, and we're very appreciative.
Johnson says the Senate proposal to cut license tabs probably won't go as far as the governor's, and may be in the $140 million range. House Republicans are also talking about tab fee cuts, but they haven't made a firm commitment.