In the Spotlight

News & Features

Ventura back in budget negotiations
By Tom Scheck
Minnesota Public Radio
May 9, 2002

Gov. Ventura entered budget negotiations as the legislative session heads into its final stages. Ventura called legislative leaders to his office to tell them what he expected in the proposed budget-balancing plan, transportation financing package and bonding bill. While Ventura and his administration say they're willing to get involved in budget talks, House and Senate leaders say they don't necessarily need him to complete their work.

Gov. Ventura says he told legislative leadership what his list of priorities are to avoid a gubernatorial veto. He said he wants lawmakers to fix the current budget deficit, replenish the state's budget reserves and pass a transportation financing package that included funding for both roads and transit, and, specifically, money for the Northstar commuter rail line.

For months, he's been calling on lawmakers to balance the budget over the next four years, but says he now realizes that won't happen. Ventura says he called lawmakers together because there are 11 days left in the session and lawmakers have plenty of work to do.

"The clock is ticking towards midnight," Ventura said. "The days are numbered and it's a case that hasn't changed in my three years here. It comes down to the final few days and, naturally, that's when we'll jump in even stronger than we have and work towards a solution."

Ventura also said he encouraged lawmakers to pass a budget balancing plan that doesn't include any budget shifts. The state has a projected budget deficit of $439 million. Senate DFLers have a plan that borrows $245 million dedicated to state highway projects and uses it to balance the budget. Their plan also includes a cigarette tax increase.

The House Republican plan would cut state spending, shift $36 million in health and human services funding and calls for using a portion of the state's tobacco endowment to balance the budget.

DFL Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe says the meeting with Ventura produced little. He says lawmakers will continue to work on budget-balancing plans that have a veto-proof majority. Moe, who is the endorsed DFL candidate for governor, says he's encouraged that progress is being made. But he says Ventura will not be a player in current negotiations.

"The governor did his obligatory, 'Let's get this done now. C'mon. We gotta give me bills that I can sign. Are you going to give me bills that I can sign?' That's about what it was and then he took a deep breath and said, 'And I'm going fishing this weekend,'" Moe said.

Ventura has his scheduled fishing opener this weekend in International Falls. Moe says in the midst of good news that budget talks are progressing, he says the state also received some bad financial news. The Finance Department is reporting that the state's revenue in April was down $61.5 million below expectations. The report also said individual income tax receipts are down $103 million from last year.

"It indicates that Minnesota is not showing recovery. That's what it indicates. And that's how they close the books in tax year '01. So I think tax year '01 is now down," Moe said.

Moe said the recent economic news doesn't mean the state's deficit for the current budget cycle increased but it will add to the deficit in the next budget cycle.

Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum says both he and Moe need to reach agreement on a global budget package by Friday night. He says lawmakers would then have to work over the weekend in conference committees and pass the measures by Monday. He says that would give lawmakers enough time to override any gubernatorial vetoes.

Sviggum says House and Senate leaders are waiting for the Transportation Financing Conference Committee to reach agreement before budget negotiations move ahead. Both he and Moe say a budget-balancing agreement will continue once they know if they plan to raise the gas tax.

Sviggum says both sides have to be willing to compromise. "We're trying to do it within the realm of what's your values, your principals, what you believe what government ought to be about. But also reach out to the other side to understand that you're not going to get everything, that you have to be willing to cooperate, but the other side isn't going to get everything either. I'm not willing to say we're bold enough to get everything, but I want to hear the same from the other side," Sviggum said.

Sviggum also says House Republicans may also disagree with Ventura and Senate DFLers on one major policy issue. He said the House will not pass the state employee contract ratification vote as long as it includes same sex domestic partner benefits. State workers will be able to go back on strike if the contract is not ratified.