Ventura vetoes budget; override sought

Maggie Hessel-Mial

Barricades shot up on the road to solving the state budget deficit at the Capitol on Monday.

Shadowed by the release of a gloomy new financial forecast, Gov. Jesse Ventura vetoed the House and Senate’s operating budget bill, leaving legislators wondering what the next step will be.

“If I had faith that the Legislature would fix the problems in this bill and solve the long-term problem, I may have signed this bill,” Ventura said. “But in reality it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that this bill is a political fix and there is a good chance the next bill will be a political fix, too.”

The new budget outlook forecasts a $2.3 billion shortfall, a 17 percent skid from a November report predicting a $1.95 billion deficit.

State officials attribute the $336 million revenue drop to a combination of rising unemployment and stagnant wages, resulting in less income tax coming into Minnesota.

The House and Senate ironed out an operating budget agreement late last week to shore up the deficit. In that bill, the University would be cut $23.6 million, close to $10 million less than Ventura’s proposal.

Ventura also recommended an added sales tax on tobacco, gasoline and food sold on college campuses and in state penitentiaries.

Instead of increasing taxes, the Legislature relied heavily on state reserve funds – a main reason the governor said he vetoed the bill. He also said paying these taxes would be a step the citizens of Minnesota could take to help the economy and the war effort.

“I want to raise fees by adding gas fees and tobacco fees. You can choose not to pay them by not buying those products,” Ventura said. “I am asking Minnesotans to step up to the plate and be patriots instead of carpetbaggers.”

House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, said he was frustrated with Ventura’s decision.

“Why would the governor want to be confrontational on this?” Sviggum said. “We have to work together to solve the problems of the state.”

Overriding the veto is the next step in the continuous process of balancing a fragile budget, said Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, DFL-Erskine.

Many legislators say they are confident in their ability to garner the two-thirds majority needed in both houses to overturn the veto this week.

Rep. Peggy Leppik, R-Golden Valley, said if the override does not occur and the committees are forced to rework budget plans, she hopes they will not be forced to cut more than the $50 million already proposed from higher education.

“I would hope that because we were one of the few committees that did not have a reduction in our reduction that we might not be affected the second time around,” Leppik said. “But there’s no guarantee of that.”

Robert Bruininks, University executive vice president and provost, said administration officials are assessing the implications of the state budget shortfall on the school’s budget in the next fiscal year.

“There is a very serious gap between the needs of the University and the various resources,” Bruininks said.

State Finance Commissioner Pam Wheelock said although the economy has been improving, the state has had a harder time bouncing back from the recession than the rest of the nation.

“There is no doubt that the Sept. 11 attack has had a major impact on our economy because it is not isolated to Minnesota,” Wheelock said. “This is something the entire nation is struggling with. You can never replace the revenue from planes that were half full, hotels that were half empty, the people who weren’t out at the Mall of America spending dollars.”

She said the state is experiencing economic growth, but it will take time to return to prosperity.

Where the operating budget bill will go, how the forecast will affect it, and how the University funding will be changed by the politics of the Legislative bodies all remain uncertain.

But Sen. Deanna Wiener, DFL-Eagan, summed up the feelings of many policy-makers over the newest developments:

“Stay tuned,” she said.

Maggie Hessel-Mial covers the state Legislature and welcomes comments at [email protected]