Gov. Jesse Ventura has slashed more than a third of the funding for state construction projects that the Legislature had approved just last weekend. Ventura chopped 116 projects totalling just over $3.5 million and says he'll withhold full funding for three other projects. Lawmakers and other supporters of the vetoed projects are crying foul, and vowing to revisit the governor's actions next year.
Gov. Ventura has been warning lawmakers for months that he considered their proposed capital projects bill too rich for the state's uncertain fiscal outlook. The bill approved last weekend totalled just under $1 billion, mostly financed by borrowing the money through state-issued bonds.
The package weighed in as the second-largest bonding bill in state history. In a written statement, Ventura criticized lawmakers for borrowing so heavily when he says they haven't properly prepared the state to meet its debt obligations in future years.
Ventura spokesman John Wodele says lawmakers' budget solution wasn't adequate to support the many bonding projects.
"If the governor would have had the opportunity to work with a Legislature that was willing to make the tough decisions and balance the budget, maybe many of those projects - or some of those projects - would have made it," Wodele said.
DFL Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe says the governor was overzealous with his veto pen. "These vetoes, I think, demonstrate the last damage that Jesse Ventura can do to the long-term good of Minnesota," Moe said.
The vetoes eliminate nearly $100 million for higher education projects, more than $30 million for environmental initiatives, and $20 million for local roads. Moe says Ventura's action was slap at legislators in general.
"And it's based on the worst kind of politics: petty, vindictive politics that serves no place in this building," he said.
Moe, who is seeking to replace Ventura as governor this fall, says if he's elected, he'll support another bonding bill next year to reinstate many of the cuts. Moe says he doesn't accept Ventura's explanation that the state's budget crunch simply can't support such a large debt load. He points out that in three areas, the governor approved projects but has reserved the right to withhold some of the money until the economic outlook brightens. Moe wonders why Ventura couldn't have taken that strategy with a wider range of projects.
"With a dictatorial stroke of his pen, he has shown contempt for the thousands of messages, e-mails, and phone calls from all around the state and beyond that have flooded his office in recent days."
- Joe Dowling, Guthrie Theater
Among the the requests facing only partial funding are grants for bridge repair. Those funds now represent about the ONLY increase in transportation dollars approved this session. Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum says that's disappointing.
"You tire a little bit of individuals who in life have to get everything they want or they take a meat axe to something or they take their ball - their basketball, their baseball - and go home because they didn't get everything they want," Sviggum said.
What Ventura wanted was funding for the Northstar commuter rail line between St. Cloud and Minneapolis, but House Republicans blocked that project, calling it wasteful and inefficient.
Wodele says the governor did not use his vetoes to retaliate for the lack of Northstar funding. Among the projects on the chopping block are a renovation of the executive mansion, a St. Cloud convention center, the Children's Theatre, the Minneapolis Planetarium, and $24 million for a new Guthrie Theater.
Theater director Joe Dowling issued a statement shortly after the veto announcement, calling Ventura's decision "intemperate. With a dictatorial stroke of his pen, he has shown contempt for the thousands of messages, e-mails, and phone calls from all around the state and beyond that have flooded his office in recent days," he said.
Guthrie officials say they'll continue to pursue funding for a new riverfront theater complex. And they say they haven't ruled out seeking more state funding next year.More from MPR