Gov. Ventura says the Legislature may have left the state ill-prepared to deal with a terrorist attack. Ventura told an emergency management conference that a budget-balancing bill passed last week over his objections has depleted the state's reserves and has made the state vulnerable. Lawmakers say the state's emergency officials are already adequately prepared. And House lawmakers proposed legislation that would give law enforcement better investigatory and response training.
Gov. Ventura told emergency management officials attending a conference in Bloomington that federal officials have told him they expect another terrorist attack. He said officials didn't know who the terrorists will be, when they'll attack or what they'll do. Ventura has been saying another attack could further cripple the state's struggling economy, which relies partly on tourism and air travel. He says a budget balancing plan passed by the Legislature over his objections may put Minnesota in further jeopardy.
"They go forward anticipating the worst and prepare for the worst and when it does happen and it's not quite that bad, they're able to handle it. I just think it's very destructive what the Legislature did in tapping all of our budget reserves and wiping them out. If something does happen now, we'll have no reserves in place to deal with it," Ventura said.
Ventura has been calling on state lawmakers to raise additional revenues through a variety of taxes to replenish the state's reserves and balance the budget through the next biennium. Lawmakers have been reluctant to raise taxes and used one-time reserves and spending cuts to balance nearly $2 billion of the anticipated shortfall. They still must cover an additional $439 million shortfall.
"Some of the governor's comments are a little bit of the war of rhetoric as it relates to the budget issue and trying to get that resolved," said DFL Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe.
Moe says the state's law enforcement and emergency workers have adequate training to respond if a terrorist attack does occur. Moe, who is running for governor, says the anti-terrorism packages are also moving through both the House and Senate would provide additional training for emergency workers. He says they would give law enforcement better tools for tracking terrorists.
"Whatever we conclude is what we need and if we need additional resources to do that, we should move ahead. I think the public understands that you have to make investments in this area because we're living in a different world now," said Moe.
The House and Senate packages would cost up to $25 million. Ventura says the the federal government is already sending some money to the state for homeland security.
"If something does happen now, we'll have no reserves in place to deal with it. "
- Gov. Ventura
The Senate bill would raise the state's 911 surcharge on telephone consumers to pay for a portion of the package.
Rep. Rich Stanek, R-Maple Grove, says House Republicans will consider their anti-terrorism package as they continue to assemble their budget-balancing plan.
"Public safety is the number-one concern in this state, it's the one thing that we're supposed to do. If we have to spend, we will spend an additional $22 million to protect Minnesotans and then from there we will work backwards to balance the state's budget or - in this case -the budget deficit," Stanek said.
Stanek's bill passed through the House Judiciary Finance Committee with a few changes. An amendment was added that would require the state to take DNA samples from all convicted felons. Current law requires the state to take samples only from sex offenders.
Another amendment would allow Minnesotans to purchase patriotic license plates. Stanek and others say the sale of the commemorative plates would generate $2.5 million this biennium. He says half the money would go towards the state's homeland defense fund. The other half would be earmarked to a non-profit organization that helps the state track terrorists.
"It's a way for citizens of Minnesota - if they choose, again this is buy it if you wish or don't if you wish, but if you want to show your patriotism, if you want to help out in the war on terrorism, you can buy this vanity license plate and one half of the fee will be used to track down terrorists internationally," according to Stanek.
The House anti-terrorism package now moves onto the House Ways and Means Committee. The Senate Transportation Committee approved the Senate version and now moves to the Finance Committee.More from MPR