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Ventura plays cat-and-mouse with lawmakers over budget fix
By Michael Khoo
Minnesota Public Radio
February 22, 2002
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Legislative plans to present Gov. Jesse Ventura with a budget-balancing plan as quickly as possible may have hit a snag. Lawmakers and officials from the state revisor's office tried in vain Thursday night to officially present the plan to the governor. But Ventura was nowhere to be found. The delay prevent lawmakers from overturning a possible veto before next week's budget forecast, a move that could strengthen the governor's hand in budget negotiations.

State Revisor Michele Timmons holds up the bill she attempted to deliver three times - once at the Capitol office, once a the Governor's Residence on Summit Ave., and once at Ventura's Maple Grove ranch. She was unsuccessful all three times.
(MPR Photo/Michael Khoo)

The state revisor and a Senate staffer made the trek out to the governor's Maple Grove ranch late Thursday night, hoping to make a formal presentation to Ventura, but according to the revisor, they were turned away by a security guard who refused to say whether the governor was even home.

That capped a day in which both houses approved a compromise budget reconciliation plan in record time but failed to locate Ventura in order to make the delivery.

During an earlier attempt of the routine procedure, the revisor says she found the door locked at the governor's Capitol office and no one available to accept the bill.

Republican House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty says Ventura's disappearing act was unhelpful. "We're a little bit concerned about him intentionally evading us. If that's what he's doing, it just seems kind of childish. And at the point at which he's intentionally trying to play cat-and-mouse, it gets our dander up and gives us some motivation to try to smoke him out," Pawlenty said.

Pawlenty and Senate Counsel Peter Wattson say the attempted delivery in Maple Grove constitutes a formal presentation. And thus, they say, the clock has begun to tick during which Ventura can either sign the bill, veto it, or allow it to become law without his signature.

But Ventura spokesman John Wodele says he's not convinced the various attempts can be considered an official presentation. Whether the clock starts Friday or Saturday may seem a trivial matter, but a delay could prevent lawmakers from overturning a potential veto in advance of next week's new budget forecast. Although it's not clear what precise advantage Ventura might gain from the delaying an override, observers say it could strengthen his ability to make budget cuts unilaterally, or it could make the entire legislative budget fix irrelevant in the face of new economic predictions.

Sen. Roger Moe talks to reporters outside Gov. Ventura's Capitol office after knocking on the locked doors. No on answered.
(MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)

Those estimates expected to show an even larger deficit. Wodele isn't saying whether the governor is deliberately avoiding taking possession of the bill. But he calls the late night delivery attempt "plain stupidity."

"It is a situation where they ought to be home with their families. They are embarrassing themselves," Wodele said.

Ventura hasn't said whether he'd veto the legislation. But he's criticized it for relying too heavily on drawing down reserve funds, which he says could jeopardize the state's ability to borrow money at favorable interest rates, and for not adequately correcting expected long-term budget shortfalls. The dispute could trigger a thorny legal battle if the governor and lawmakers can't agree on the appropriate deadline for Ventura to take action on the bill.

DFL Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe says whatever the outcome, he expects the public to look dimly on Ventura's absence.

"We worked overtime to meet the governor's request to get the budget-balancing bill to him as quickly as possible. And now, when we deliver the bill to the governor, he's nowhere to be found. I think the public will be the judge on this, and they'll say somebody in this process isn't doing their job," Moe said.

Ventura spokesman Wodele acknowledges the administration would appreciate an extra day to evaluate the bill, but he says it's not for political advantage, but because the governor's office was exclude from the negotiations that produced the legislative fix.

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