A bill that balances the state's $439 million projected budget deficit has been delivered to Gov. Ventura. The House and Senate both passed the bill after working out the final details early Wednesday morning. Legislative leaders say the agreement makes the best of a bad situation. But Gov. Ventura says he is not happy that lawmakers failed to agree on a long-term solution to the state's deficit problems.
Gov. Ventura called the compromise between House Republicans and Senate DFLers "fiscally irresponsible" and an "election year gimmick." The bill uses accounting shifts and delays payments to schools and counties to plug the $439 million shortfall and replenish the state's reserves. He says he won't decide whether to veto the plan until he sees the details, but he didn't offer much hope for the bill's supporters.
"I don't think you'd have one CEO of a private sector business in the state of Minnesota that would have a budget like that. And I would say that just about every legislator themselves would never have their own personal budget like this one," Ventura said.
Ventura has encouraged lawmakers to pass a plan that addresses the deficit over the next four years. Lawmakers passed a plan in February over Ventura's objections that balances nearly $2 billion of the state's deficit.
They also plan to override Ventura if he decides to veto the current budget-balancing plan. The Senate passed the bill with the necessary votes to override. The House passed the bill two votes short of the required two-thirds majority.
Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum says the votes will be there to override a veto since two Republicans were absent. Sviggum says the deal represents a compromise between legislative leadership because it doesn't raise taxes or cut services.
"This is a pretty, pretty good choice. Now, that's compared to the other choices there are. Would we pass this bill if we didn't have a $2 billion deficit? No, absolutely not. But we have a $2 billion deficit, we have to face that and we have to extend a little hope that tomorrow will be a little better than today," Sviggum said.
However, several House DFLers say the bill avoids the hard work that needs to be done because the state has a projected $2.5 billion deficit in the next budget cycle. They also argue that the two budget-balancing plans harm state's vulnerable residents.
Rep. Rob Leighton, DFL-Austin, called the plan a "complete gimmick. Many of you on that side of aisle for years have said we need to reduce government spending. In this bill, what you've decided to do is simply look at November. You haven't made any of the tough choices that many of you have promised to make and we're simply sliding through this session looking toward the next election," he said.
Several DFLers say lawmakers should have raised taxes. Sen. Doug Johnson, DFL-Tower, a member of the budget conference committee that crafted the deal, said he thinks the next Legislature will be forced to raise taxes to fix the deficit. Johnson, who will retire at the end of the session, said a DFL-controlled Senate, Republican-controlled House and an Independence Party governor makes it difficult to accomplish anything.
"Tri-partisan government doesn't work very well. If you don't just elect one political party to office, try to elect two different parties. Please don't elect three next time because I don't think it's good for you as Minnesotans and makes the process very, very difficult," Johnson said.
Ventura has three days to make a decision on the bill. If he takes the entire time and vetoes the bill, lawmakers will need to return for a rare Sunday session to override it.
Lawmakers also have to resolve some sticky issues before they adjourn on May 20. They need to address an anti-terrorism package, a bonding bill, a stadium financing plan and resolve the dispute regarding state worker contracts. The state work force could strike again if the House and Senate do not agree on contract language that includes benefits for same-sex couples.More from MPR