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Week Ends Without Budget Deal
By Laura McCallum, Minnesota Public Radio
May 18, 2001

Another day of budget negotiations passed at the Capitol on Friday with no deal. Legislative leaders have been meeting on and off with aides to Gov. Jesse Ventura to try to break a logjam over major tax and spending issues. With less than four days left until Monday's adjournment deadline, a special session seems inevitable, and there's plenty of finger-pointing going on.

Ventura again took to the airwaves Friday to blast the Legislature for the budget stalemate. Ventura says lawmakers have been at the Capitol for five months and have little to show for it. On his weekly radio show, the governor sparred with a caller who argued that Ventura should do more to force lawmakers to reach agreement. Ventura says he submitted his budget on time back in January - and he can't be held responsible for lawmakers' failure to do their work:

VENTURA: "It's THEIR job to set spending targets. They haven't even done that. It is not my job to go in there and hold their hands - am I teaching kindergarten here, or are these people you elected?"
CALLER: "Governor, when I elected you, I elected you."
VENTURA: "Did you vote for me?"
CALLER: "As a matter of fact, I did! When I elected you, I voted for you to do whatever it takes to get the job done. And you're..."
VENTURA: "And I'm doing that!"
CALLER: "No, you are not! You are doing the minimally acceptable job of submitting the budget, that's the first step."

Other callers sided with Ventura, and questioned why lawmakers can't finish their work on time. Ventura didn't meet with legslative leaders. After his radio show, he left the Capitol to attend the funeral of his finance commissioner's father. But his aides made an offer to try to get a budget deal.

Legislative leaders say it includes some form of "lights-on" legislation - a way to fund essential state services to avoid a government shutdown - along with a sales tax rebate of this year's surplus and a state take-over of the K-12 education levy. House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, says his caucus has serious reservations about the plan, and is very willing to leave without a deal if they don't get enough tax relief. "They say a bad deal is worse than no deal," he said.

Senate Democrats are concerned that a "lights-on" proposal wouldn't adequately fund education, which Majority Leader Roger Moe, DFL-Erskine, called their "core value". Moe says leaders will keep trying to resolve the impasse, but the prospects for a special session are increasing by the hour - despite Ventura's insistence that he wouldn't call one. "I'm sure he'd rather not. But I think at this stage of this game, you best get pragmatic about how we get it all done," he said.

Moe and many legislators say it's unfair for the governor to dismiss their work over the past five months. Rep. Kevin Goodno, R-Moorhead and chair of the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee, says lawmakers haven't been slacking off.

"Well, we've been working through the process. It took us awhile to understand the governor's budget and what he was trying to do, then we took testimony from people about his proposals and about what he was trying to do, we have our own proposals, we've gone through that process, we've put bills together, in public, and now we have those proposals that we've been working on for five-and-a-half - five months, and now we wanna complete that," Goodno said.

Goodno says he doesn't want to have to slap together a compromise health and human services bill this weekend and rush it through both bodies on Monday. He says it would only take a one or two day special session to pass major spending bills, if a budget deal is reached. As lawmakers get ready for a wild ride in the final days of the session, they've been told to prepare for something that's apparently never happened in the state's history - a Sunday floor session.