Legislative session might end early

by Megan Boldt

In a surprise move, House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, said he would consider ending the legislative session early, leaving the University without funding and the public without a tax rebate and cuts.
The speaker said he is frustrated with the debates with the governor and the Senate over how much tax money should be given back, said Bill Walsh, Sviggum’s spokesman.
“There has been no movement on the governor’s part, and there has been no movement on the Senate’s part,” Walsh said.
Sviggum said the Legislature would be better off waiting until next year to make decisions on the bonding bill, tax cuts and rebates because more funds will be available next year.
Until then, voters can decide what they want their legislators to do, Walsh said. A decision to end the legislative session could be reached as soon as Friday.
“It’s an option, but not our first choice,” Walsh said.
If a majority of the House concurs with Sviggum, then funding for University construction and maintenance projects could be in jeopardy.
Richard Pfutzenreuter, University chief financial officer, said the University is extremely concerned by Sviggum’s comments.
He said all the projects would go up in price, and it would be tragic to have them sit and wait — especially the Molecular and Cellular Biology building.
“(The building) would be a bunch of metal protruding out of the ground for the next two years,” Pfutzenreuter said.
“The University has some really important needs, and we want to support them,” said Mike Wilhelmi, legislative assistant to Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Thief River Falls. Stumpf is the Senate Higher Education Finance Committee chairman.
Wilhelmi said senators generally hope the House continues with the session and working with the Senate on the issues in question.
University-area Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, said the idea is completely off the wall.
“It’s like a little kid picking up his toys and leaving because he doesn’t get his way,” Kahn said of Sviggum’s proposal.
Wilhelmi said if the House does go along with the proposal, Gov. Jesse Ventura will probably call legislators into a special legislative session.
The governor has not released a statement in regard to Sviggum’s possible halt of the House’s session, said John Wodele, Ventura’s press secretary.
Ventura met with Sviggum on Wednesday morning and said the meeting was encouraging, Wodele said.
No future meetings have been planned between the governor and the speaker, but Wodele said Ventura is always flexible when meeting with legislative leaders.

Megan Boldt covers state government and welcomes comments at [email protected]. She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3212.