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Special Session? Budget Talks Deadlock
By Michael Khoo
May 18, 2001
Part of MPR's online coverage of Session 2001.
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Prospects for an orderly resolution to this year's legislative session have grown dimmer. On Thursday, Gov. Jesse Ventura warned lawmakers he has no intention of calling a special session if they're unable to pass major spending bills by Monday's adjournment deadline. But after a second late night of negotiations, House and Senate leaders failed to reach agreement. And House Republicans say they're skeptical about a Senate contingency plan to avert a government shutdown if a deal isn't forthcoming.
Gov. Ventura warned legislators not to expect a special session in which to resolve their differences. Following a speech in Minneapolis, Ventura said he sees no excuse for dragging the session beyond the constitutional deadline for adjournment. He says lawmakers have had plenty of time since January to work out a budget. Listen to the speech.

With four days left before the constitutionally mandated adjournment date, the prospects grow with each passing hour that the Legislature will reach that deadline without agreement on major budget issues. Legislative leaders now say it's unrealistic to expect the House and Senate to agree on omnibus spending bills by Monday. Ventura says they shouldn't expect him to bail them out.

"Will I call a special session? I have no intention to right now. So be prepared for June 30th for a government shutdown," Ventura said following a speech to the Minnesota Meeting. "And rest assured it doesn't lie on my shoulders. It lies on the shoulders of the House and the Senate for not doing their jobs."

If the stalemate persists, and Ventura holds to his pledge not to re-convene the Legislature, state government funding would run dry on July 1, bringing essential government services to a halt. Senate DFL leaders say the focus is now shifting to a contingency plan that would maintain government funding at current levels with some adjustment for inflation. Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe says with the clock winding down, there's not enough time to negotiate a comprehensive tax and spending plan

"That's impossible," said Moe, DFL-Erskine. "We are certainly willing to work on a exit strategy that keeps government providing the necessary services, builds some inflation into the base for our schools and providers, and provides the rebate."

Moe says bare-bones approach could leave over a billion dollars in projected surplus revenue for lawmakers to use next year for tax cuts and new spending initiatives. But House Speaker Steve Sviggum says Republican negotiators will continue to press for a global agreement to the budget impasse. He says after a night of trading offers, the two sides are close on overall budget numbers but have yet to reach agreement on how to structure major property tax reform. The two sides' last public offers put them within $250 million out of a $1.5 billion projected two-year surplus. Sviggum says when he presented the Senate's minimalist approach to GOP lawmakers, they were unimpressed.

"First of all we, under that scenario, are spending a fairly substantial amount of money for a fairly insignificant amount or permanent tax cut. And I think that is their major objection," said Sviggum, R-Kenyon.

Ventura wasn't directly involved in Thursday night's budget talks, but he made it clear earlier in the day that he'd be disappointed if the Legislature adjourned with only minimal funding bills. Ventura says the projected budget surplus offers a unique opportunity to enact comprehensive tax reform, in particular a state takeover of the general education levy that would generate double-digit property tax cuts for most properties.

"I don't believe it'll come by again in my lifetime," said the Independence Party governor. " All of us [could] feel good about what we've done. And instead you've got a political fight not on behalf of the people but between two parties."

Ventura says his budget was prepared in January, as required by law, and lawmakers have no excuse for not completing their work in the four months they've had since.

Michael Khoo covers politics for Minnesota Public Radio. Reach him via e-mail at