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Surplus Could Lead to Capitol Deal-making
by Mike Mulcahy
March 1, 2000
Part of MPR's Session 2000 coverage
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Governor Ventura says lawmakers with re-election on their minds need not fear if they side with him and put off any major permanent tax cut until next year. The governor is still at loggerheads with the Republican majority in the House and DFL majority in the Senate over what to do with the $1.8 billion projected budget surplus. While some at the Capitol say the impasse could delay the end of the legislative session, there are at least some signs that all sides are willing to deal.

GOVERNOR VENTURA returned from three days of meetings in Washington saying nothing much changed while he was gone. Even though the projected surplus grew by $229 million, Ventura says his priorities for the legislative session remain the same: a $470 million sales-tax rebate, a cut in license-tab fees, and spending more money on transportation and transit. He says it's a year for the Legislature to concentrate on the bonding bill, not on big tax cuts and major spending initiatives.

"I don't want to see any other significant legislation on my desk until they've adopted a responsible capital budget focused clearly on the state's priorities."

- Governor Ventura
Never mind that both Republicans and Democrats have complained Ventura's bonding plan shortchanges rural Minnesota. House and Senate Republicans say tax cuts should be the focus of the session. They say the entire $1.8 billion surplus should be given back to taxpayers. At a rally outside the governor's office Tuesday, House Speaker Steve Sviggum said Ventura isn't going nearly far enough.

Governor Ventura called the demand for tax cuts "election year politics." He says there's plenty of political cover for lawmakers who accept his plan to squirrel away more than a billion dollars of the projected surplus with the promise of a major property tax cut next year.

House Republicans have proposed an $800 million income-tax rate cut that the governor's office says can't be sustained in future years, and that DFLers say is unfair to low- and moderate-income Minnesotans.

Senate DFLers have proposed a smaller income tax cut that increases the personal and dependent exemption as well as a smaller license-tab fee cut than Ventura's. Republicans say the Democrat's tax cut is far too small. There's been some talk of the Democrats and the Republicans trying reaching a separate deal on taxes and freeze the governor out at the end of the session by overriding a veto, but DFL Majority Leader Roger Moe says he doesn't want to do that. "We want that. We intend to work with the administration to get a balanced approach," Moe said.

Even Steve Sviggum, away from the rally, says he wants to work with the governor. He says he's willing to compromise on the details of a tax cut, although he says he won't compromise on sending the entire surplus back to the taxpayers. And although the governor is no longer a member of the Reform Party, all sides at the Capitol are still trying to figure out how three-party government works.

GOP House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty says there's no rule book to play by. "It is a shifting game of two-on-one," says Pawlenty, "You know we've got some contrasts with the governor, but I think the lesson that we've learned is that if you've got the governor on your side, you've got a bit of an advantage."

Pawlenty says it may be harder to reach a deal with Senator Moe and other DFLers than with the governor. But right now Ventura wants to sit on $1 billion - money he insists is nothing more than a projection.