In the Spotlight

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Ventura Gets an Earful
By Michael Khoo
February 16, 2001
Part of MPR's online coverage of Session 2001
Click for audio RealAudio

Gov. Jesse Ventura is on the road to shop his legislative agenda. Ventura spent Thursday afternoon in downtown St. Peter meeting with business owners. He brought along his budget proposals and tax reform agenda, and residents brought pointed questions.
St. Peter barber George Lesner told Gov. Ventura (not shown) that he didn't like the governor's proposal to tax haircuts. In the chair is resident Kurt Moelter.
(MPR Photo/Michael Khoo)

GOV. VENTURA, for obvious reasons and by his own admission, doesn't spend much time in barber shops. But midway through his tour of St. Peter, Ventura dropped in on barber George Lesner.
Lesner: Jesse!
Ventura: Hi, George, how are you?
Lesner: Just fine.
Ventura: What can you do for me George? A little off the top?
Lesner: Well, we can polish it up.
Ventura: You can polish it? Alright, I'll wait and then I'll let you polish it up.
Ventura is often greeted with reverence by outstate crowds, and the usual autograph seekers lined the streets in St. Peter. But Ventura's message of tax reform didn't attract many fans. As part of his proposal, the governor would cut income and property taxes, but offset the loss in revenue with an expansion of the sales tax to include services: among them, haircuts. Lesner wasn't impressed.

"I think we have enough taxes already. Why bother when we've got a surplus already?" Lesner asked Ventura.

Dawn Sandborg (left) told Gov Ventura that her daughter, Ciara (right), attends a school which may have to shut down because of a money shortage.
(MPR Photo/Michael Khoo)
"Well, you would probably pay less rent by lowering the property taxes 'cause then whoever owns it's going to pay less. And you're going to pay less of an income tax," said Ventura.

Ventura says despite the shift between taxes, Lesner and others, would ultimately benefit from his budget plan because it lowers the overall state and local tax burden.

Leaving Lesner's shop, Ventura stopped by a local law firm to deliver the same message. Currently, attorney's fees aren't subject to sales tax, but Ventura's plan would eliminate that exemption. He told attorney Chris Rosengren a shift to the sales tax gives Minnesotans more control over how much they pay to state coffers.

"It's also a matter of, like I said, fairness and priorities. I think which way you want to go with it. I'm a believer in sales tax because I get to choose to pay it. You know, when I have an income tax, I don't get no choice. It's deducted from me," Ventura told Rosengren.

Rosengren challenged the governor, saying legal advice isn't a luxury that his clients can forgo just to avoid a sales tax.

"People that come to me are people that are widows who are trying to get their husbands' estate probated. They're women whose husbands have left and they're being sued for divorce. And there's not a lot of money to be spread around on those people to start with," Rosengren said.

Gov. Jesse Ventura visiting Nutter Clothing Co. in downtown St. Peter.
(MPR Photo/Michael Khoo)
Ventura did find support for cutting property taxes from some shopkeepers and among patrons at the local American Legion club. But he also took criticism for the low levels of new spending in his latest budget.

At the club, he was peppered with questions about nursing home funding. And several parents stopped him on the street to plead the case for schools.

Dawn Sandborg's eight-year-old daughter, Ciara, attends Bridges Community School in Mankato. She says the school is facing a shutdown due to a funding shortage.

"If the budget cuts were to happen to the schools, we would lose out on the future. You know, our children are our future. And they deserve to know and learn," said Sandborg.

Ventura counters that he is not cutting school budgets, he's simply not providing as much new money as some educators would like.

"If the Legislature decides they want to spend more, they are free to do that. But where is it going to come from? Low-income housing? They can take it from there. They can take it from double-digit property tax relief for farmers," countered Ventura.

In the end, it's likely lawmakers will take money from Ventura's tax-relief package to fund education, highways, and nursing homes. And a recent Minnesota Public Radio poll shows nearly three-quarters of Minnesotans support using the projected budget surplus for both tax cuts and higher spending.

Michael Khoo covers politics for Minnesota Public Radio. You can reach him via e-mail at