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Senate DFLers press Ventura on education funding
By Michael Khoo, Minnesota Public Radio
June 20, 2001
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Legislative leaders are resuming budget talks in hopes of breaking a month-old stalemate on fundamental tax and spending issues. House and Senate negotiators are expected to respond to offers traded during a closed meeting Tuesday night, and Senate DFLers are calling on Gov. Jesse Ventura to play a more public role in resolving the impasse.

Voices from the Capitol
John Knapp, a longtime lobbyist, represents a number of clients, including Koch Industries and the Minnesota Business Partnership. He talked with MPR's Cathy Wurzer about the budget stalemate. Listen to his comments.
FOR WEEKS NOW, the catch phrase at the state Capitol has been "incremental progress." After a string of meetings - some public, most private - a comprehensive deal on property-tax reform and education funding has eluded lawmakers. But after the latest round of offers, House Speaker Steve Sviggum says both sides have made substantial movement.

"Compromise always comes hard," said Sviggum. "When you move to the other person's position, it feels like you might be undermining or underselling your postition or your values a little bit too much."

Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, however, says he believe Democrats are making more concessions than their House Republican counterparts. Moe says resolving the final sticking points may require a more public role for Gov. Ventura, particularly on two education spending proposals.

DFLers want to use $195 million from the tax bill for a school energy credit. They'd also take another $95 million out of a budget cushion and direct it towards K-12 funding. Moe says the administration has resisted those plans, and he's calling on Ventura to stake out a public position.

"All we simply asked the administration to do is to come out from behind the closed doors and suggest - as they have in the closed meetings - that they're against it. Just simply say it publicly. Then maybe we can move on," Moe said.

Ventura spokesman John Wodele says the governor's position on those items should be fairly clear: He opposes major spending increases and he wants the budget cushion increased, not reduced. Wodele suggests the Senate may have ulterior motives for calling for a public statement or signed letter.

"Why they want it publicly and very specifically to these two spending items, I wouldn't want to say for sure, but maybe someone could speculate that it has more to do with politics than it does to do with the final outcomes of these bills," said Wodele.

Finance Commissioner Pam Wheelock, who has represented Ventura in budget talks, also says the administration has been clear on its opposition to those two education proposals. But she hints the governor may be willing to compromise on another obstacle. DFLers want to link a proposed statewide tax on businesses and cabins to education funding, a move House Republicans oppose. But Wheelock says if a budget deal meets the governor's other requests, such as reducing property-tax disparities for different property types, the administration is open to considering the Senate's concerns.

"We are not willing to jeopardize a tax bill that accomplishes significant rate compression and double-digit relief for all property classifications because of an unwillingness to consider what the Senate says is their essential interest. And so we're willing to do that," according to Wheelock.

Wheelock says the most recent Senate offers shows significant progress towards resolving outstanding issues, and she says if all parties show the necessary committment, she hopes final deal could be in hand by the end of the day.