In the Spotlight

News & Features

Session 2000: It's a Wrap
by Mike Mulcahy
May 10, 2000
Click for audio RealAudio 3.0

The longest legislative session in Minnesota history is nearly over. Lawmakers barely made their self-imposed deadline to pass major tax and spending bills. That means they'll have time to meet once more to re-pass any bills Governor Ventura may veto and wrap up a few other last-minute details. Legislative leaders say they want to be judged on the results of their work rather than the admittedly messy process they used to get them. The results include tax cuts and another rebate, higher spending for education, and about $600 million for building projects around the state.

IN A PROCESS THAT MADE sausage-making look like good clean fun, the Legislature staggered to its self-imposed deadline by passing a bonding bill on the Senate floor with two minutes to spare.

The "morning of the living dead" resulted from all-night negotiations over changes to the Profile of Learning graduation standards, closed-door negotiations between legislative leaders that left the rest of the House and Senate with nothing to do most of the night until a last half hour dash to pass the remaining budget bills.

DFL Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe wasn't making any apologies. "The bottom line is what people ought to be concerned about - the taxpayers of Minnesota - have been well served by this session," Moe said.

The tax bill on its way to the governor's desk features a permanent income-tax cut that will mean a savings of about $71 for households with annual incomes of $50,000 to $75,000. The bill would also give Minnesotans another sales-tax rebate late this summer averaging about $300. And it caps auto license-tab fees at $99 after a car is three years old.

Moe says the public should also approve of the spending increases passed by lawmakers. "We passed some very important investments in education and health care and the environment. And we passed a transportation package and a bonding bill that reflect statewide needs."

Moe and Senate DFLers had pushed for increased permanent education spending throughout the session; finally getting their way when Governor Ventura agreed to Moe's idea to split the permanent surplus money three ways.

Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum is also praising the balance of the final product of the session, even though he says the deal would have been even better if the Legislature would have cut Ventura out of a final agreement. "We actually would have provided based upon the November forecast some more money in addition to education spending and actually substantially more tax cuts somewhat based on the November forecast," said Sviggum.

House Republicans were at odds with Governor Ventura for most of the session, over Ventura's veto of the bill requiring a 24-hour abortion waiting period, over Ventura's control over a third of the surplus, which many thought subverted the constitution, and over the governor's insistence in the closing hours of the session that $44 million be set aside for mass-transit projects in the bonding bill.

Ventura didn't mend any fences by going to Washington to meet with President Clinton and other dignitaries while lawmakers were working all nighters. And his response to KARE-TV when told about Speaker Sviggum's concerns certainly won't help his relations with the Legislature. "Well maybe if the speaker was ever personally invited by the president, he might have a somewhere to talk from, then," said Ventura. "When the president calls you on a national policy, you go. But, then again, when you're only involved in local politics maybe you don't know anymore than that."

While House Republicans lost in their effort to get bigger income-tax cuts this year, Ventura didn't get everything he wanted either. His proposal to put the unicameral legislature issue on the ballot this fall went nowhere. He failed in his push for permanent transportation funding, and lawmakers rejected his plan to save much of the projected surplus for a major property-tax overhaul next year.

The Legislature isn't done with Ventura yet. They'll meet again next Wednesday for a final day to override any of the governor's possible vetoes, and approve changes to the Profile of Learning graduation standard.