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Ventura puts brakes on state hiring
By Laura McCallum
Minnesota Public Radio
February 14, 2002

Gov. Ventura has ordered his state agencies to hold off on hiring new workers. The move doesn't go as far as the blanket hiring freeze Republican legislators are calling for, because it allows essential jobs to be filled. Still, legislative leaders are applauding the governor's action as an important step in balancing the budget.

Ventura calls his move a state hiring "restriction", not a freeze. He says when state employees leave, their positions won't be filled unless there's a critical or legal need to do so. He's allowing agency heads to make that decision. Ventura says the policy is in effect until June, and could be expanded, depending on what the Legislature does to address the state's nearly $2 billion deficit.

Speaking to veterans in St. James, Ventura says he's doing what he can to make cuts that don't require legislative approval.

"And I don't need the Legislature to tell me how to manage the government. That's my job in the executive branch, to manage the government," he said. "By putting an across-the-board hiring freeze, that could be devastating. That means we're not allowed to hire anyone. I think anyone that's ever headed a business knows, you need the discretion or the ability to make those judgments yourself on who you hire and fire."

Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum of Kenyon says it's about time Ventura reined in state hiring. But Sviggum doesn't see why the governor is blaming legislative inaction on the budget for his decision.

"I almost have to kind of smile, because the Legislature is acting extremely quickly this session," Sviggum said. "The Senate has already passed their omnibus bill, reconciliation bill; the House, we have 11 different bills going, and we are moving through the process at an extremely quick pace. The bills are on the House floor as early as Monday of next week."

The House Republicans' plan goes further than the governor's hiring restriction. If nearly 2,700 positions - or five-percent of the state's payroll - are not reduced by the end of the year, the plan would call for layoffs.

Senate Democrats rejected a Republican attempt to add a hiring freeze to their plan earlier this week. DFLers say a blanket freeze hurts the state's ability to fill key positions.

Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe of Erskine says the governor's action makes sense, because it gives agency heads flexibility. "I think you have to distinguish a freeze from a deep freeze. A deep freeze is not good, I think having a freeze with flexibility so that when the person who is the one person that's knowledgeable about the computer system that sets up a formula for reimbursement, if they leave, you've got to replace that person," according to Moe.

Moe has been meeting with other legislative leaders to find common ground on balancing the budget in the current two-year budget cycle. The goal is to come up with a plan that all four caucuses could sign off on, and send to the governor soon.

Ventura repeated his demand that the Legislature act quickly. "And if there's no resolve on the part of the Legislature to take meaningful action, I will not hesitate for additional budget reductions or anything that I can do. I have to do it," he said.

Along with state hiring, Ventura is clamping down on state spending in other areas such as travel, equipment purchases and service contracts. All out-of-state travel must now be approved by the Commissioner of Employee Relations.

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