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Let the Lobbying Begin
By Laura McCallum
January 24, 2001
Part of MPR's online coverage of Session 2001
Click for audio RealAudio

The governor began taking his case to the public in St Paul. Meanwhile, the lobbying has begun in earnest as groups that feel short-changed by the governor's budget are starting to rally their supporters.

Gov. Ventura listens to speakers at a citizens' breakfast he hosted to lobby for his budget on January 24, 2001. Learn more about the governor's budget plan.
(MPR Photo/ Laura McCallum)
GOV. VENTURA BEGAN SELLING HIS BUDGET to the public with a breakfast meeting at the governor's mansion. He and several of his commissioners spent a couple of hours with about 25 Minnesotans ranging from lobbyists to interested citizens. Ventura's planning director, Dean Barkley, says the governor had a clear message for citizens who support his plan.

"You need to get out there and tell other people in your communities of what we're doing here, and to call your legislators, and to get them to weigh in on this, because we need citizen pressure in order to do some things that maybe aren't as easy to do as normal," Barkley said.

The governor's budget cuts income and property taxes and the sales tax rate, broadens the sales tax to include some services and recommends limited spending increases. Many groups are decrying the proposal as too lean, particularly for education funding, both K-12 and higher ed.

Robbinsdale teacher Tom Dooher, says he told Ventura at the breakfast that his budget doesn't recognize the dilemma facing school districts.

"To attract and retain, which is his key point, I think you need to do some things with salaries, and what we're seeing in energy prices, we can't pass those on to consumers, we have to take those and in order to do that, we have to cut teachers. And our parents don't understand how you have to cut teachers and close buildings when you're in an economy that's booming with surpluses," said Dooher.

Ventura said after his budget address that there's no way the state can fund all of the spending requests; he says that's why they're called "wish lists."

Ventura's argument made sense to another citizen who came to the governor's mansion: Sandra Colson of Minneapolis.

"One point that he made that really struck me is that there's an existing level of funding that the institutions are getting, and that's not being cut. What they're cutting back is the wish lists, the increasing funding, and I think it's important to stop and make the institutions take a look at what they're spending," she said.

The institutions, K-12 and higher ed in particular, argue that Ventura's budget cuts more than their wish lists. The governor wants to spend about 10 percent of the state's budget on higher education - down from more than 14 percent of the state's budget a decade ago.

MnSCU chancellor Morrie Anderson says that's led to an increasing crunch for funding buildings, equipment and salaries. He says state colleges and universities are calling on their supporters to push for a bigger increase.

"The education community needs to step up just as much if they want to get the level of funding that's competitive with this type of political atmosphere"

- Sen. Satveer Chaudhary
"At any given time, we have 200,000 students; we think we need to mobilize those. We know that we need to mobilize alumni, and we have a lot of those as well," Anderson warned.

The University of Minnesota is appealing to its 300,000 alumni, most of whom live in Minnesota, to lobby their legislators for more money.

Education groups are also starting to organize their supporters. Public schools would get about 31 percent of state spending under the governor's recommendations. Two years ago, Ventura recommended about 33 percent of his budget go to K-12 education.

Some lawmakers say the reason elected officials have often seemed more interested in tax cuts than education increases in the last few years is that tax cut proponents are more vocal.

Sen. Satveer Chaudhary, D-Fridley, says he gets more calls from people who want their money back than from those who want to spend more on education.

"The education community needs to step up just as much if they want to get the level of funding that's competitive with this type of political atmosphere," Chaudhary said.

Chaudhary says legislators give far more credence to calls from constituents than to pleas from lobbyists. He says he hasn't gotten many calls on the governor's budget yet. But as interest groups continue to analyze the details, lawmakers are likely to hear more from the winners and losers.