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Lawmakers reach budget deal; Ventura 'disappointed'
By Laura McCallum
Minnesota Public Radio
May 15, 2002

Legislative leaders have reached a budget deal, just days before the end of the legislative session. The House and Senate plan to vote on the budget bill Wednesday. It comes up with the money to plug the remaining $439 million budget deficit and begins to replenish the state's reserves. But it doesn't meet some of Gov. Ventura's requirements, and he could veto the bill. Legislative leaders also say a transportation funding package appears dead for the session.

Rep. Steve Sviggum and Sen. Roger Moe meet with reporters after an agreement was reached to close a massive budget deficit in Minnesota. Looking on are House Minority Leader Tim Pugh and Senate Minority Leader Dick Day.
(MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)

The agreement relies largely on accounting shifts to balance the budget, including a delay in state payments to school districts and counties. The plan also dips into various state funds to help cover the shortfall. The state's tobacco endowments could be used in a cash flow crunch. And the budget reserves would be rebuilt to about $300 million, a move designed to ease concerns of credit-rating agencies.

Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum of Kenyon says Minnesotans should be pleased with the agreement. But he gave it a less-than-ringing endorsement.

"The choices we're making, although not great choices, let me be the first to tell you, they're not great choices. They're better than the alternatives," he said.

Sviggum says the alternatives included raising taxes and letting the governor cut spending on his own. Sviggum says if the budget bill becomes law, the Legislature will have resolved a $2.4 billion projected deficit without increasing taxes or cutting aid to schools and nursing homes.

After the deal was announced, Gov. Ventura's spokesman John Wodele said the Legislature has just put off the tough decisions until next year.

"What they have done today is basically add another story to the fiscal house of cards that they started building in phase one, with a hope and a prayer that it doesn't implode before they can get through this election cycle," Wodele said.

Wodele says Gov. Ventura won't decide whether to sign or veto the bill until he sees the details. But Wodele says the governor is disappointed the bill uses accounting gimmicks and leaves a hole in the state budget in the next two-year budget cycle. Wodele says Ventura is mainly concerned about how the bill will affect the state's credit rating.

DFL Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe of Erskine, who's also running for governor, says legislators tried to meet Ventura's demands.

John Wodele, spokesman for Gov. Ventura, says the governor is disappointed the bill uses "accounting gimmicks" and leaves a hole in the state budget in the next two-year budget cycle. MPR Morning Edition host Cathy Wurzer talked with Wodele on 5/15/2002. (Listen)

(MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)

"I would hope that going to almost half of what the budget reserve was before - which took 10 years to build to - we would hope that the administration would view that as a very significant effort on the part of the Legislature to meet one of the administration's concerns," Moe said.

Moe says he hopes Ventura gives lawmakers an indication of whether he'll sign or veto the bill by the weekend. Ventura has three days to sign or veto legislation, or it becomes law without his signature. If Ventura takes the full three days to veto the bill, lawmakers are considering holding a rare - maybe unprecedented - Sunday floor session to override his veto.

Wodele says Ventura won't rush his decision just to make an override more convenient for legislators.

The budget deal clears the way for votes in the final days of the session on other major issues. But legislative leaders say a transportation funding package is dead.

Speaker Sviggum, who up until now had said he thought a gas tax increase could pass the House, says he had to face reality.

"With one bill, I can get half the Republican votes, with another bill, I can get half the Democratic votes, but I can't get half of each with the same bill. It's a problem," he said.

Sen. Moe called the transportation stalemate "a lost opportunity," and says it will be a major campaign issue this year. Lawmakers are optimistic they'll be able to finish bills funding construction projects and anti-terrorism measures before Monday's deadline to adjourn.

They say a stadium bill is still a possibility, but only after they finish work on the budget and bonding.