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Ventura Ready for Budget Fight
By Laura McCallum
February 14, 2001
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Three weeks after Gov. Ventura unveiled a budget heavy on tax cuts and light on spending, he says he's not backing down on his budget recommendations. Ventura's budget is coming under fire from education proponents who say it's too stingy, but Ventura says he's the only leader who can stand up to the education lobby.

Listen to Gov. Ventura's interview with MPR reporter Laura McCallum.
WEARING BIKING SHORTS AND A TIE-DYED TANK TOP, Ventura took time out before his regular noon-hour workout at the governor's residence to defend his budget, which has been both praised and panned around the Capitol. Ventura says three weeks of feedback from the public have convinced him that he was right to recommend a lean budget.

"I'm getting a lot of people, quietly, behind the scenes, citizens, telling me, absolutely, 'Stick to your guns.' You know, 'Stay with the position you've held,' because they feel that there should be accountability, and that just because there's budget surpluses doesn't mean that that automatically opens the door to freewheeling and spending," Ventura told Minnesota Public Radio..

Ventura says instead of spending the surplus, his budget takes advantage of good economic times to reform the tax system. He wants to lower property taxes by having the state pick up a greater share of education funding, cut income tax rates, and reduce the sales tax rate from 6.5 to 6 percent.

At the same time, the governor wants to expand the sales tax to cover some services that aren't currently taxed, like haircuts and legal fees, an idea that has brought howls of opposition from affected groups. Many lawmakers say they won't support adding a new tax during a time of surplus.

So what if legislators aren't willing to tax services?

"Well, then you don't get double-digit property tax relief, and you probably don't get the type of income tax cuts that they want," Ventura said. "Clearly, polls show that people find the sales tax to be the most fair tax."

The governor says he's also standing firm on his pledge to return the current budget surplus - projected to be around $925 million - in rebate checks to taxpayers. Democrats in the Legislature want to use $30 million of the surplus to help school districts pay their heating bills, but Ventura says that opens the door to a blizzard of spending requests.

"The education lobby buys a lot of political leaders with their contributions."

- Gov. Ventura
"Oh, they'll chip away and you'll end up with no rebate at all. Then you're in the game of picking winners and losers. Who gets the rebate, who doesn't? Who determines that the schools get their heating paid for, but the elderly, old folks don't? Or do we pay for both? And then if we go from there, well then why shouldn't Joe's Malt Shop down on the corner - he's paying the same heating bills - why shouldn't he get a piece of this pie to help cover his expenses? See what kind of Pandora's box you open up when you do that?" Ventura said.

Ventura has been aggressively selling his budget through one on one meetings with legislators, editorials in newspapers and speeches. While he isn't budging on his priorities, he realizes the Legislature is likely to shift the spending around. As legislative committees begin to pick apart Ventura's budget, lawmakers in both parties are criticizing his recommendation to limit education increases to about the rate of inflation.

College students, higher education officials, superintendents, teachers and parents have converged on the Capitol to decry the governor's budget, saying it will lead to tuition hikes, program cuts, larger class sizes and teacher layoffs. Ventura says he's not swayed. He says he's the only person who can stand up to education supporters, because he doesn't need their money.

"The education lobby buys a lot of political leaders with their contributions," said Ventura. "It's very difficult for the Democrats and Republicans, with the influx of money that they need, to be able to do it. See, I can freely do it because if I run for reelection, I'll spend less money this time than I did the first time."

While Ventura says he won't decide whether to run again until next year, his budget clearly positions himself for a re-election bid. He says it achieves the two campaign promises he made when he was first elected - to return the surplus to taxpayers, and control the growth of government.

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