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Final Pleas Aired At Capitol
By Laura McCallum , Minnesota Public Radio
May 30, 2001

Advocates for women, children and low-income families came to the Capitol on Wednesday in a last-ditch effort to influence Minnesota lawmakers before they make final decisions on a new two-year state budget. Conference committees are still working out the details of tax and spending bills under the framework of a budget deal reached last week. Critics say the agreement shortchanges women and children, and the number of disgruntled lawmakers who don't like the deal is growing.

The Minnesota Women's Political Caucus, which works to elect abortion-rights supporters, gives the House a "D-" and the Senate a "B+" on issues affecting women. President-elect Ember Reichgott Junge says the House slashes funding for family planning and long-time programs for women such as battered women's services and the Displaced Homemakers Program.

"There has been a persistent, pervasive reversal of the gains made by women that are now at issue in the conference committees," said Junge, a former DFL state senator. "Every woman and child is affected, and we need to raise our women's voices before it is too late."

Junge says there's still time to influence key lawmakers as they negotiate spending bills. A coalition of faith-based, non-profit and labor groups made a similar pitch as they called for more spending on children, working families and the homeless. AFL-CIO president Bernard Brommer says the budget deal focuses too heavily on tax cuts for the wealthy. He says if lawmakers don't change their priorities, groups will band together to elect new leaders in 2002.

"We're going to have to work cooperatively and make our voice heard in this state and in this nation, otherwise, we're going to continue to see this idea of the concentration of wealth - get what you can out of this system, don't worry about your neighbors, don't worry about the children, don't worry about the homeless, don't worry about anything else, just get the money and run," Brommer said.

Advocates aren't the only ones grumbling about the proposed plan; some Senate Democrats say it doesn't spend enough on education, and gives too much property tax relief to businesses and high-valued metro homes at the expense of low-valued homes and farms in rural Minnesota. House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, says not everyone's happy with the agreement, but it balances a nearly equal amount of tax cuts and new spending.

"Does it mean that all the spenders get everything they want? No. But all those who would like tax reductions don't get everything they want, either," Sviggum said. "I mean, this is a balanced arrangement, where we try to significantly reduce property taxes, do property tax reform, fund schools, fund nursing homes, do the reforms which we think are important."

Sviggum says not everyone in his caucus likes the agreement either, and there are numerous factors that could derail the deal. At the moment, the biggest problem seems to be the lack of progress. Only two of eight conference committees even met Wednesday, and neither made any major decisions. Gov. Jesse Ventura told legislative leaders he'd like to call a special session next Wednesday, but not unless lawmakers have reached agreement on all the spending bills.