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Details Still Divide Lawmakers
By Laura McCallum , Minnesota Public Radio
June 4, 2001
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Two weeks after the Legislature adjourned its regular session, lawmakers still haven't worked out the details on seven major tax and spending bills. Legislative leaders say it would take a miracle for them to finish their work by Wednesday, when Gov. Jesse Ventura wants to call a special session. The biggest sticking point hasn't changed - a debate over the level of education spending and the make-up of property tax cuts in the tax bill.

Ventura met with key negotiators throughout the day Monday to get status updates on their progress. One of the House negotiators for health and human services, Rep. Fran Bradley, R-Rochester, says Ventura wants them to resolve their differences quickly. "Primarily the governor's message to us is: the clock is ticking. Serious things are ahead of us, we don't want to shut this government down, none of us do, so please get this done," he said.

State government will shut down on July 1 without a new two-year budget. Senate Republicans say if that happens, Senate Democrats are to blame. They accuse Senate DFLers of backpedaling on the budget deal reached by the governor and legislative leaders more than a week ago by trying to earmark a portion of a new statewide business property tax to education funding. Sen. Bill Belanger, R-Bloomington, the lead Republican on the Tax Committee, says Majority Leader Roger Moe, DFL-Erskine is dragging his heels on historic property tax reform.

"Roger has to recognize that this is four on one, it's not two on one. He's up against the House Republicans, the House Democrats, the Senate Republicans and the governor," Belanger said. "That's an awful lot to be up against."

Moe says his caucus members are going to continue to fight for what they believe in. "We're working hard to do a couple of things that are very important to the people of this state - adequately fund education, and make sure that this new scheme with the commercial and industrial property taxes don't end up being born at the expense of higher property taxes for average valued homes," he said.

Until legislative leaders can iron out the details of the tax bill, most other conference committees are on hold. Negotiators did wrap up work on the environment and agriculture spending bill over the weekend, at 3:30 a.m. Saturday, to be exact. The chief Senate negotiator, Sen. Len Price, DFL-Woodbury, says he and the lead House negotiator decided it was time to finish. "About 12:30, Representative Holsten said to me, you know, we're kind of getting bogged down here in language, should we come back here Monday? And I said, you know, we've been here this long, let's get this thing done. And so, we just slugged it out," Price said.

Although "slugging it out" may not be an option to break this latest logjam, House tax chairman Ron Abrams, R-Minnetonka, says it may take a professional wrestling stunt. "Tonight over at Target Center, we can call up Vern Gagne, and get the old weasel suit, and have Sviggum against Moe in a weasel suit match, and the one who hasn't lived up to the agreement has to get into the weasel suit," Abrams joked.

As the stalemate continues, the prospects for a Wednesday special session appear highly unlikely. Many key lawmakers say they're working under the assumption that the real deadline is somewhere around June 18, when layoff notices will start to go out absent agreements on budget bills.