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Budget deal is in Ventura's court
By Laura McCallum
Minnesota Public Radio
February 21, 2002
Click for audio RealAudio

In record speed, the Minnesota Legislature has approved a budget-balancing plan and sent it to the governor. The House and Senate passed a bill that addresses the state's nearly $2 billionprojected deficit. Gov. Ventura won't say whether he'll sign it, but he's given a few reasons he could veto it.

Listen to a portion of the House floor debate on Feb. 21, 2002.

Some highlights of the Legislature's budget plan.
AGRICULTURE: cuts of $2.6 million
-$879,000 from Department of Agriculture marketing, development and assistance programs.
-$761,000 from the Agriculture Utilization Research Institute.
-Reduces ethanol subsidies by a penny per gallon beginning in July 2004.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: cuts of $7 million
-$460,000 from the Office of Tourism.
-$800,000 from the Minnesota Historical Society, but instructs the agency to not close sites.
-Adds $16 million to the Dislocated Worker Program for laid-off workers.
-Prohibits cuts to the Displaced Homemaker Program.

-$317,000 from parks and recreation management.
-$1 million from the Minnesota Conservation Corps.
-$349,000 from enforcement functions.

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: cuts of $95.9 million
-Withhold 5 percent of payments to HMOs for low-income health programs until they meet performance targets.
-Cuts $7 million in administrative costs.
-Delays by a year a plan to increase an income limit from 120 percent to 135 percent of poverty for seniors to join the prescription drug program.
-Keeps open the Ah-Gwah-Ching regional treatment center in Walker, along with centers in Willmar and Fergus Falls.

HIGHER EDUCATION: cuts of $50 million
-$23.6 million from the University of Minnesota.
-$22.6 million from the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.

K-12 EDUCATION: cuts of $15 million
-$6.6 million from Department of Children, Families and Learning operating budget.
-$1.3 million from an account encouraging new teacher pay models.
-$1 million from audits aimed at education finance accountability.

MISC. STATE AGENCIES: cuts of $41.9 million
-$2.2 million from the Legislature's budget.
-$1.1 million from the governor's office, including the elimination of his Washington, D.C. office.
-$1 million from the state auditor's office.
-$900,000 from the attorney general's office.
-$6.9 million from prisons.
-$5.3 million from the Department of Finance.
-$14 million from the Department of Revenue.
-$1.4 million from public defenders' office.
-$1.8 million from the crime victim services office
-$600,000 from battered women's shelters
-$610,000 from office of drug policy and violence prevention.
-Increases filing fee for civil lawsuits from $122 to $135.

-$35 million from state's professional or technical service contracts.
-$40 million from a hiring freeze on state employees.

-$2.6 million from the Metropolitan Council for transit services.
-$175,000 from Capitol Security for executive protection.
-$200,000 from Driver and Vehicle Services.
-$84,000 from fire marshal.
-Fee increased from $8 to $15 for conducting background checks for certain gambling-related businesses.
Source: Associated Press

(Photo: Minnesota House of Representatives)

The deal reached by House and Senate leaders earlier this week uses one-time money and spending cuts to balance the budget. The bill proved much more contentious in the House than in the Senate. After about four hours of debate, the House voted 76-56 for the plan (See roll call). All but seven House Democrats voted against the bill. Many said they couldn't support the nearly $70 million worth of cuts in K-12, early childhood and higher education.

"If standing up for kids is wrong, if standing in the way of tuition increases is wrong, if standing in the way of cuts to education - the lifeblood of the future of this state - is wrong, I don't want to be right," said Rep. Tom Pugh, leader of the DFL caucus in the GOP-led House.

House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty fired back by sarcastically asking several members of the House if they'd seen the DFL's deficit-reduction plan. He then joked that House gallery visitors and TV viewers should leave a message on a fictitious Internet site -- "www.where'" -- if they'd heard of such a plan.

Rep. Rob Leighton, DFL-Austin, says the plan is "a fraud and a gimmick," because it ignores inflation in the next two-year budget cycle.

"We've raided every pot of money that's available in this state, we've left ourselves bone-dry, we have not owned up to any structural deficits at all that are coming, and you want to avoid all the tough decisions, you want to get out of St. Paul and you call that leadership," he said.

House Democrats were the only caucus in the Legislature that didn't put together a deficit-reduction plan. House Republicans, along with Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans, did - and all three are now behind the compromise plan.

House Republicans challenged Democrats to come up with their own plan for balancing the budget. Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty of Eagan says legislative leaders had to agree on a way to solve the state's budget problem.

"There's an old saying that folks should lead, follow or get out of the way. And the DFL should not stand for do-not-follow or lead. The fact of the matter is: You've got to be problem-solvers, you've got to be leaders and you've got to be able to stand up and say how you're going to solve the problem," he said.

Pawlenty says if Gov. Ventura vetoes the bill, House Democrats will have to decide whether they can live with the education cuts in the plan. Otherwise, Pawlenty says they're giving the governor the authority to cut education and other spending on his own.

It takes two-thirds of the Legislature to override a gubernatorial veto. House Minority Leader Tom Pugh, DFL-South St. Paul, says he's not sure how his caucus will vote if it comes to overriding a veto.

"We don't like the bill. From my perspective, he should veto it," he said.

There was less fiery rhetoric in the Senate, which passed the bill on a 57-8 vote. Some senators argued against ignoring inflation and criticized specific cuts.

"This is painful," said Sen. Deanna Wiener, DFL-Eagan. "I don't think there is a person in this body who thinks this is fun."

But, she said, if the Legislature didn't act soon, Ventura could use his "heavy hand" to cancel funds that were already approved for programs.

The bill's author, Sen. Doug Johnson, DFL-Tower, says it's not a perfect bill, but the Legislature accepted the governor's challenge to move quickly to balance the budget.

"I'd love to vote against this bill. That would be the easy thing to do. But we're taught, we're elected to make tough decisions. To be responsible. And I think this bill is going to become law," Johnson said.

That partly depends on Gov. Ventura, who has until early next week to decide whether to sign or veto the bill, or it will become law without his signature. Ventura won't say what he'll do. But he says the plan is fiscally irresponsible, because it drains the state's budget reserves without a plan for replenishing them.

He told a group of private college students that bond rating companies could decide to lower Minnesota's triple-A credit rating, making it more expensive for the state to borrow money.

"I don't think that's good fiscal management. I don't do it at home, so why would I do it here?" Ventura said.

House Speaker Steve Sviggum says if Ventura vetoes the bill, the House will move immediately to override his veto. Legislative leaders want the bill to take effect before a new revenue forecast is released next Wednesday.

Legislators expect the forecast to show another dip in the state's tax collections.

More from MPR
  • Session 2002 Issue Briefing: State Finances
  • See vote roll call in House