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Politics on a Three-Legged Stool
By Laura McCallum
May 3, 2001
Part of MPR's online coverage of Session 2001.

Taxes: The House bill contains nearly $1.6 billion of tax cuts. It emphasizes property-tax cuts and reform, eliminates the health care provider tax, and cuts capital gains taxes. The Senate hasn't released its $609 million tax bill yet, but it will focus heavily on property tax cuts.
K-12 Education: The House bill spends about $355 million in new money for the two-year budget cycle. It would increase the per-pupil formula by 2.2 percent in the first year of the biennium and 3.1 percent in the second year. The Senate bill spends about $450 million in new money. The per-pupil formula would increase 2.6 percent in the first year and 3 percent the second. The House bill repeals the Profile of Learning graduation standards, re-establishes the State Board of Education and sets up a board to monitor charter schools. The Senate bill does not.
Higher Education: The House bill puts $165 million of new money into higher education. It uses $250 million from a tobacco endowment for the University of Minnesota Academic Health Center. The Senate bill spends $283 million in new money for higher education. It uses about $50 million for one-time projects from this year's surplus, which House Republicans and Gov. Ventura want to use for a tax rebate.
Transportation: The House bill would ask voters in 2002 to approve a constitutional amendment dedicating 60 percent of the motor-vehicle sales tax, or MVET, to transportation. The Senate bill includes a constitutional amendment to dedicate 50 percent of MVET to transportation (18 percent would go to transit). The Senate bill includes the "photo-cop" provision to allow cameras at intersections to track red-light runners, and primary seat belt, which would allow police to stop drivers for not wearing seat belts. Neither provision is included in the House bill.
Health and Human Services: Both the House and Senate bills include a 3 percent cost-of-living wage increase per year for nursing home workers. The Senate bill expands health insurance for children and the uninsured, and aims to reduce racial disparities in health care. The House bill includes a 24-hour abortion waiting period vetoed by Gov. Ventura last year. The Senate added the provision to the bill, but the bill's sponsor then set the bill aside in hopes of convincing some Senators to remove the provision.

.08 - a proposal to lower the blood-alcohol limit for drunk driving from .10 to .08.
Concealed Carry - A proposal to make it easier for Minnesotans who qualify to get a permit to carry a concealed weapon.
Choose Life License Plates - A proposal to have the state create special license plates with proceeds going to adoption programs
-Laura McCallum
Minnesota lawmakers have spent the past week passing major spending bills funding higher education, transportation, agriculture and other priorities. Now comes the hard part: getting the House, Senate and governor together on the major budget issues.

IF THE BUDGET PROPOSALS OFFERED BY THE GOVERNOR, the House and the Senate were legs on a stool, it would not yet be safe to sit down. With less than three weeks to go, the players remain far apart on key spending decisions.

Gov. Ventura's budget has been out for months; it keeps a lid on permanent spending and focuses on property-tax relief and reform. The Republican-controlled House agrees with Ventura's overall spending level, but its budget shifts the money around to put more into education and nursing homes.

The DFL-controlled Senate wants to spend more than the House and the governor. Finance Committee Chairman Doug Johnson, DFL-Tower, says citizens are telling lawmakers they want a mix of tax cuts and increased spending on education, health care and transportation.

"They're saying, 'We don't want to see the class sizes for our children go up, we don't want to see tuition rates become too high for kids who are going to college, we want to get our roads fixed, the potholes are becoming unbearable,'" according to Johnson.

On nearly every major funding bill, the Senate wants to spend more than the House; the K-12 and higher education bills are each about $100 million apart. The Senate also wants to use half of this year's surplus on one-time transportation, health care and higher-education projects, while the House and governor want to rebate the entire amount - projected at $856 million.

House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty, R-Eagan, says on most of the major budget issues, House Republicans have Ventura on their side.

"Our fundamental strategy is going to say, look, we've got the governor and us saying we're going to live within inflationary-level increases, we want big tax cuts, and if the Senate doesn't like that, it is kind of the two-on-one dynamic, and I think we're going to do a lot better this year than we have in the past," says Pawlenty.

The three players in Minnesota's tri-partisan government have yet to start meeting for final negotiations, but Gov. Ventura has sent letters to legislative leaders in recent days spelling out his views on budget issues. He has threatened to veto spending bills that contain an abortion waiting period, and has urged lawmakers to seriously consider his proposal to extend the sales tax to some services, an idea that's generated little enthusiasm at the Capitol.

Ventura spokesman John Wodele says while Capitol insiders like to speculate about the possibility of a tri-partisan train wreck, the governor is confident the three sides can work out a budget deal.

"There's time yet," Wodele says. "Two years ago, the last budget session, it came down to the end also. The Senate has to come up with its tax bill. Once the Senate has a tax bill, and we have the ducks in a row, then we can make target decisions and we can move forward."

Getting the ducks in a row has been complicated this year by a couple of factors. The Senate has a new Finance Committee structure, and none of its budget bills - save higher education - match up directly with the House bills.

House and Senate leaders are still working out the details of conference committees, which were originally scheduled to start meeting this weekend. It seems like a daunting task to agree on a two-year budget in the remaining two-and-a-half weeks, but long-time legislators say they've done it before, and this year will be no exception.