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Ventura's plan gets chilly reception from all sides
By Tom Scheck
Minnesota Public Radio
January 10, 2002
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Much of the the reception to Ventura's deficit reduction plan is icy. Social program advocates and local government officials say Ventura is balancing the state budget at their expense. Tax opponents say Ventura's plans for higher gasoline, tobacco and sales taxes hurt working Minnesotans.

The governor recommended a 5.1 percent cut in state aid to cities and a 2.8 percent cut in aid to counties. "My plan does not directly 'raid' any local government fund balances - but it does expect local governments to make use of their reserves to tide them over the short run, while they make their own permanent decisions about taxes and spending - just as the state will be doing," he said.
(Courtesy of Minnesota Finance Department)

Gov. Ventura said he expects everyone to complain a little bit about his plan to reduce the state's nearly $2 billion projected deficit. He said he'd much rather hear a chorus of small complaints from special interest groups, than make deep cuts to one or two programs. He likened his cuts to a small headache.

"I think you'd rather have the mild headache than the impacted wisdom tooth. So that's what we tried to do," Ventura said. "We thought, well, we'll spread this out and give everyone a headache. I think we'll be successful if everyone complains. If we get across-the-board complaints then I think we have actually achieved our objective of spreading it as vastly as we can."

Local government officials, however, say Ventura's proposal to eliminate 5 percent of the state's aid to cities and counties is causing them a major headache. Rochester city councilman Dave Senjem says his city would be forced to cut core services if Ventura's plans go through.

He says communities outside the metro area primarily rely on state money to fund local services. Senjem said Ventura is only shifting the state's budget problems onto local government.

"We're simply going to see a decrease in services," Senjem says. "I think this is going to affect our ability to provide those basic services which include police, fire, the maintenance of the streets, the infrastructure, and those things which cities need to do to provide a quality of life."

The Children's Defense Fund's Jim Koppel says if city and county officials are worried about their core services, social programs are in even greater jeopardy. Koppel says Ventura has proposed shifting a greater portion of the state's funding for some social programs to the city and county levels. Koppel says many social programs will be in trouble if the plan goes through.

"These very programs that serve families with children did not get the increases during the good years, but they're getting the cuts now that we're in a bad year," Koppel says. "That's what is disappointing. If you're going to ignore us in the good times, try to ignore us in the bad times, too."

Jim Koppel of the Children's Defense Fund is concerned about Gov. Ventura's budget cuts. Ventura proposes shifting more social services to city and county levels, while those governments must also cope with cuts in other programs. He fears social programs will be in serious trouble if the plan goes through.
(MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)

While some are complaining about Ventura's spending cuts, others are criticizing Ventura for his tax increases. The governor wants to raise the gasoline tax by an additional 5 cents per gallon, and raise the cigarette tax by 28 cents per pack. He's also advocating other sales and income tax increases.

Some groups complained the increases would violate Ventura's 1998 campaign pledge to not raise taxes. The conservative Taxpayer's League of Minnesota headlined a press release with the word BETRAYED at the top.

Others, like Mike Hickey with the state chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, say Ventura's mix of tax increases and spending cuts amount to "old school" state politics. He says Ventura should use the state's tobacco endowments, which total about $1 billion, to remedy the shortfall.

"That tobacco endowment is huge. It's a huge piece of money that can fit into the equation," Hickey says. "This is such a typical Minnesota solution of half new taxes, half spending cuts in the out years. We think this is not the package that needs to be done. It should be something that has no tax cuts or...minimizes tax cuts."

One of the only groups that found something to like in Ventura's plans were anti-smoking groups. They say the proposed tobacco tax increase would help their efforts in reducing the state's smoking rate.

However, the group expressed disappointment that Ventura wants to put $6 million from the state's tobacco endowment earnings into the general fund in next year's budget.

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