The 82nd state legislative session will officially end Monday after the Senate returns to wish its departing members farewell. The House completed its business and adjourned early Sunday morning after both bodies put the finishing touches on this year's legislative business.
The Legislature began its work last January under the dark cloud of deficit, a situation it hasn't faced in almost a decade. Gov. Jesse Ventura called on lawmakers to adopt his plan of tax hikes and spending cuts for patching what eventually ballooned to a $2.4 billion projected shortfall. But lawmakers, overriding the governor's vetoes, cut their own path, leaving Ventura stranded. The governor says the result is a hoax on state taxpayers.
"We weren't brought in as a player, even though we were available to be so. I would categorize the session as...not very courageous. In fact, not courageous at all," he said.
Ventura vetoed the final piece of the budget-balancing plan, but legislators were able to override the governor late Saturday night. Coupled with an earlier round of deficit reduction the package uses accounting shifts, state reserves, and minor cuts to state spending to restore to repair the state's budget book through mid-2003.
Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, who's running for governor this year, says he expects mixed reactions to the results.
"When it comes to balancing the budget - a $2.4 billion budget shortfall - and not have any cuts to school, to nursing homes, to local government aids; and begin to replenish the budget reserve by having about over $300 million in the budget reserve, I think the general public will say, 'you know, that's not too bad. You handled that with the least amount of pain,'" Moe said.
Senate DFLers wanted to raise cigarette taxes and offer an inflationary increase in education spending through the next fiscal cycle, but House Republicans stood firm on their insistence that no new taxes were necessary. House Speaker Steve Sviggum, however, says there are a few regrets. For one, despite the governor's early admonition that the Legislature act quickly, lawmakers drew the session out until one day before their mandatory adjournment deadline. Sviggum says there's no reason negotiators couldn't have reached compromise before Easter.
"That was very unfortunate," he said. "A lot of things played into that from gubernatorial politics to just various different polarized positions that were taken. Second to that timing, from my personal standpoint, would probably have been a transportation funding package."
Moe and the governor have also expressed disappointment that a transportation package faltered. DFLers favored a six cents-per-gallon gas tax increase to fund roads and public transit. The House made tentative offers for a smaller tax hike dedicated exclusively to road projects, but couldn't find the support to pass the plan. A $979 million bonding bill contains some funding for roads and bridges, but notably excludes money for the Northstar commuter rail line between St. Cloud and Minneapolis. The commuter line was a top priority for Ventura. The bonding package was the last bill approved before the Legislature adjourned Sunday morning, and the governor has said he's ready to make good use of his veto pen after Northstar failed to make the cut.
Ventura has 14 days to exercise his veto options, and this time, lawmakers have no chance to override.