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Ventura Highlights Tax Reform in State of State Address
By Laura McCallum
January 5, 2001
Part of Minnesota Public Radio's online coverage of Session 2001

Gov. Jesse Ventura used his second State of the State address to call for major tax cuts and government reform. Ventura wants to cut property, income and sales taxes, and change the way the Legislature does business. The governor has his work cut out for him to sell a bold agenda.
Listento the entire State of the State address by Gov. Ventura.

TWO YEARS AGO, Gov. Venturaproclaimed, "the state of the state is great". This time, he said the state of the state is good, and he listed a myriad of ways to improve it.

Topping his list of reforms is a series of tax cuts - cutting income taxes across-the-board by a half-percent, reducing property taxes by having the state pick up a greater share of education costs, and trimming the sales tax from 6.5 to six percent. But Ventura also wants to broaden the sales tax by including services that aren't currently taxed, which he admitted may be the most controversial part of his tax reform plan.

"We cannot ignore that we have a sales tax in Minnesota built and designed in the late-'60s economy. It is riddled with exemptions and totally ignores a huge and growing segment of our economy. This is a tough one. This change will take tremendous political courage," Ventura told lawmakers in the House chamber.

Ventura says the budget he releases later this month will limit spending growth, and demand better and faster service from state government. He attacked the 16-percent spending growth of the last two-year budget, and says his budget will have only limited increases for education.

"This last biennium, with tripartisan support, we increased K-12 spending by $1.3 billion. Still, most local school districts would like much more. But I am skeptical because I believe that most districts have not shown taxpayers the benefit of the last budget increase," Ventura said.

Ventura also wants to prohibit school districts from including businesses, cabin owners and farms in excess levy referendums, an idea one lawmaker described as a bombshell that would make it tougher for districts to raise extra money.

The governor also used his 75-minute speech to call for other reforms: overhauling the state's telecommunications laws, changing the way campaigns are financed, and restricting the Legislature to a single session every other year, after his plan for a one-house legislature failed last session.

"I still believe that a single house legislature would be the best way to fix the problems inherent in our two-house system. Rest assured, if the Legislature fails to reform itself this session - to paraphrase my good friend Arnold Schwartzenegger - Unicameral will be back," he said.

Legislators are lukewarm to the idea of a single session every other year, and one lawmaker blasted the governor for using his State of the State to take shots at the Legislature.

"I would suggest to the governor that he go home and say his prayers and hope that the February forecast holds up."

- Sen. Roger Moe
Overall, his speech was much more warmly received by Republicans than Democrats. Republican House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty of Eagan says Republicans agree with the governor on reigning in government spending and cutting income taxes.

"It looks like we have a new fiscal tag-team partner. We're very excited about most of this speech, and we feel - finally - the governor's coming around and being the type of fiscal conservative that he ran on," Pawlenty said.

DFL leaders sat on their hands for much of Ventura's speech, although they say they're open to his idea of reforming the property tax system.

DFL Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe of Erskine says Democrats want to see a mix of tax cuts and increased spending on education, health care and other priorities. He says the governor's tax cuts are too aggressive, particularly if the state's robust economy slows down.

"I know he's made some comments about religion, but I would suggest to the governor that he go home and say his prayers and hope that the February forecast holds up. Because if there is a revised downward in that February forecast, I believe what he's done here is he's created expectations that he cannot meet," said Moe.

Many lawmakers say with his State of the State, the governor has taken an important first step in pushing his reforms. But they say he'll have to not only be engaged in the legislative process this session, he'll have to take his case to the public to generate enough support for such an ambitious agenda.

Laura McCallum is the Capitol Bureau Chief for Minnesota Public Radio. Reach her via e-mail at