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Action returns to Capitol
By Laura McCallum, Minnesota Public Radio
June 25, 2001
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Two spending bills are on their way to the governor's desk, after the House and Senate Monday passed legislation funding higher education and environment and agriculture programs. The move marks the first major action by the Legislature in the two-week old special session. But with the prospect of a partial government shutdown less than a week away, lawmakers must still resolve differences in the seven other major tax and spending bills.

Gov. Jesse Ventura appeared on MPR's Midday program Monday, criticizing lawmakers for making little progress toward avoiding a shutdown of state government. Listen to the broadcast.
THE SENATE MOVED FIRST to pass the two bills, which negotiators worked out in conference committee weeks ago. The $2.9 billion higher education bill includes $176 million in new money, less than what initially passed the Senate, but more than what the House and governor proposed. It uses tobacco settlement money to create a $343 million endowment for the University of Minnesota's Academic Health Center.

Sen. Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, says the bill shortchanges the University of Minnesota because "for decades, the dream of this state has been that we would have a high quality public research university that was also affordable to the students of this state, and was also accessible to the students of this state. With the passage of this bill, that dream dies forever," he said.

Higher education officials say the bill will result in double-digit tuition hikes at campuses across the state. Legislators who negotiated both the higher education and the environment and agriculture bills say they did the best they could with the resources they were given. The $548 million environment and agriculture bill includes money for new feedlot inspectors, but less lottery money for the Department of Natural Resources, and no new money for deformed frog research.

During debate on the bill, Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, blamed the House for bringing the state to the brink of a government shutdown. Murphy says House Republican leaders will likely feel the wrath of Minnesotans who converge on the Capitol mall for the Taste of Minnesota celebration this weekend.

"Speaker Sviggum, I hope you and your henchmen of executive committee are here. And I hope that you are here to listen to those thousands of people out there that have a quart of beer in their bellies when they come up to throw the tomatoes," Murphy said.

Senate DFL leaders held a news conference right after passage of the bills, and challenged the House to do the same. The House took the Senate up on its challenge, and passed the two bills within hours of the Senate. Majority Leader Roger Moe of Erskine says that's not enough. He says House Republicans should endorse the budget compromise offered by Gov. Ventura last Friday, and wrap up the rest of the spending bills.

"The public wants us to get out of here, I would hope that Speaker Sviggum doesn't become 'Shutdown Steve,'" Moe said.

House Speaker Steve Sviggum, a Republican from Kenyon, didn't appreciate his new nickname. "Maybe Senator Moe isn't always as kind a person as he ought to be," he said.

Sviggum says the House never agreed to go along with the entire budget compromise offered by the governor, just the property tax reform in the proposal. But Sviggum says that shouldn't force a government shutdown. "We've said from the beginning that we get the agreement on the tax bill, the other bills should be able to fall in line, let the working groups meet, let the working groups work, and that will be done," Sviggum said.

Sviggum says two other working groups are close to agreement on bills funding early childhood education and jobs and economic development programs, and the tax bill should be ready for a vote on Wednesday.

But Gov. Ventura says the remaining seven tax and spending bills should be ready for a vote now. He questioned the progress at the Capitol on MPR's Midday program.

"They haven't done anything more than what they had done three weeks ago. And like I said, this weekend, over 50 percent of the conference committees didn't even meet," Ventura said.

Ventura says the compromise he offered last week was an all-or-nothing proposal, and he repeated that he will veto the health and human services spending bill if House Republicans try to include any abortion restrictions. He says unless lawmakers resolve their differences by Wednesday, he believes there will be at least a partial government shutdown.