The three-way budget deal, which legislative leaders reached Wednesday is taking at the Capitol. House Republicans reluctantly are coming on board and Governor Ventura is speculating on how he'll spend his share. Some say the proposal began in jest, before Ventura certified it as viable. But lawmakers say many questions remain, such as how policy matters will be decided within each "third," and the size of the rebate and the bonding bill. Negotiators on all sides are emphatic that this year's deal does not constitute very good policy, and should not serve as a precedent in future years.
IN THE FALLOUT from the budget deal announced Wednesday, House Speaker Steve Sviggum faced equally tough negotiations within his own caucus. Members complained that rather than settle for a smaller tax cut, they should have held out and possibly ended the session without an
"I think the process is wrong. It smells bad."
- Steve Sviggum
agreement. The deal gives the House, Senate and Governor Ventura each one-third of the ongoing surplus, or $175 million, to spend as they wish. Sviggum says he's not thrilled about the outcome either.
"I think the process is wrong," he said. "It smells bad. It's wrong. But if I
were the governor I'd have jumped on it right away too."
Sviggum says, in the end, he thinks his members will be glad to tell people in their districts they brought back a combination of tax cuts and new spending for schools. The House plans to use its third for an income-tax cut while the Senate will put its money toward education, nursing homes and the Department of Natural Resources. Governor Ventura says he's thinking about putting his third toward cutting car license-tab fees, but he's also savoring the process.
"My mind can change," he said. "When you're given a check for $175 million, that gives you a few choices to make."
Ventura says he may even try to persuade House members to cast their lot with him. "Maybe I can convince them that license tabs would be a good way to
go, and we'll take it even lower than $75, with their money we could
get it to $50 easy."
But with House Republicans still reluctant about the deal, such collaboration is unlikely. DFL Senator Larry Pogemiller of Minneapolis says House negotiators got burned because they started far apart from the Senate and governor over the amount of money available. "The House started out with very unreasonable expectations," Pogemiller says. "They
weren't willing to stay within the governor's numbers, and so they had a bill
that had $800-$900 permanent tax relief. Well, there wasn't that much money."
The legislative session has come to a standstill in recent weeks over the disagreement on the amount of available money; Ventura and the Senate have maintained the budget contains $549 million for new spending or tax cuts while the House went by higher estimates. But Pogemiller says despite the standoff, he thinks the budget deal reflects the right priorities. "You're ending up with a very balanced approach here with some strategic investments in education, the environment and helping low-income nursing home workers, the lowest-paid people in the state."
The logistics of imposing the three-way budget deal on the traditional conference-committee structure are unclear. Republican Representative Tony Kielkucki of Lester Prairie says he and other House members have concerns about which school districts will receive money under the Senate's education spending, and in general how disagreements between the two chambers will be handled. "There are some people that still have some questions on the policy
matters that relate to spending even within the area of agreements," Kielkucki says. "For example, on the tax bill, let's say the Senate tax committee really objects to
some of the policy associated with the money; I don't think anybody has a
clear answer on some of those things yet."
He says the fate of farm aid included in House bills is also unclear. House Speaker Steve Sviggum says each body will have exclusive control of its share of the spending and any policy matters involved. But he hopes the urban and rural diversity among House Republicans and Senate DFLers will lead to fair distribution of funding and tax cuts around the state. One-time spending, such as the rebate, bonding bill and transportation funding, must still be decided.
Legislative leaders plan to meet on those issues over the next few days. The House and Senate will convene next Tuesday.