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Ventura prepares budget cuts in wake of Legislature's inaction
By Laura McCallum
Minnesota Public Radio
May 8, 2002

Gov. Ventura says he's preparing for the possibility that the Legislature won't finish its work by the May 20 deadline for adjournment. The House and Senate have yet to agree on several major issues, including the budget, bonding, transportation and anti-terrorism initiatives. Some legislators say the governor should get more involved to force lawmakers to reach agreement.

Ventura told a radio station in Pipestone that he and his staff are preparing for the worst. If lawmakers don't deal with the remaining projected $439 million budget deficit, Ventura can cut spending on his own or call them back in special session. He says he's putting together a list of programs he might cut.

"I'm not going to share it right now, because I don't want to stir things up any worse... Maybe they will solve it and it won't get to that. I will wait until after they're gone before revealing what unallotments I would start to look at," Ventura said.

Ventura says he could also call a special session in September, right in the midst of the campaign. Legislators say the governor just wants to make them look bad right before the election. Ventura hasn't said whether he's running for re-election.

Some lawmakers say the standoff at the Capitol might not be as bad if the governor hadn't washed his hands of the whole process.

Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, says Ventura should stop doing radio interviews and start sitting down with legislative leaders. "Arne Carlson did it, Rudy Perpich did it, Al Quie did it. I've served with them, and to bring people together, the power of the office of the governor is very, very unique," Johnson said.

Ventura says he and his staff are available to participate in budget talks, but the Legislature has excluded him. Ventura proposed a four-year budget fix back in January, but lawmakers passed their own plan to solve most of the deficit over Ventura's objections.

Senate Minority Leader Dick Day, R-Owatonna, says he doesn't fault the governor for the lack of progress, because Ventura's not at the table.

"He never gets invited to anything. I'm not a big governor fan. You all know that I think he's one of the more rude, braggadocious (sic) people that this state's ever seen. So I'm not a big fan of his, but I think he has to be able to weigh in and get his... We don't invite him," Day said.

Ventura spokesman John Wodele says the governor isn't interested in being part of a budget fix that's not fiscally responsible.

"Their idea is a minimal approach - don't do anything, avoid the problem, gimmicks, shifts; it is an approach that is conducive to re-election, to help their campaigns, to not offend special interests, to put that off until after the election. The governor wants nothing to do with that," Wodele said.

House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty says for the past three years, the House and Senate have been at odds and Ventura has helped broker a final deal. Pawlenty, who's seeking the Republican endorsement for governor, says this year, Ventura seems to just want to sulk about the fact that the Legislature keeps overriding his vetoes.

"He just really doesn't have the interest or the skills in building relationships with people and trying to bring them together, he's more interested in having press conferences and bashing us," Pawlenty said.

Legislative leaders held their first negotiation session in a couple of weeks, but made no major progress. Ventura was not invited to participate.