Legislators must overturn Ventura’s budget veto

What a difference four years makes.

A governor whose feather boas and headline-stealing antics were a welcome rebellion against politics as usual during the boom of the Roaring ’90s has now become a tiresome political hack at a time when the state desperately needs mature leadership and old-fashioned budget hawking. With Gov. Jesse Ventura’s remarks Monday on his veto of the Legislature’s budget plan, his administration descended to a new level ridiculousness, and the inappropriate and offensive reasons for his veto deserve to be overridden. Despite lawmakers’ failure by three votes to do so yesterday, they likely will – and should – revisit the issue.

The Legislature’s budget accomplished a stunning feat. By cutting budgets, canceling one-time expenditures and drawing on the state’s reserves, lawmakers presented a plan to cover the state’s shortfall in the next fiscal year without raising taxes. The details can be debated, but the Legislature’s self-restraint is nonetheless admirable.

But the governor labeled this bipartisan sacrifice of pork and sacred cows a “political fix,” said any subsequent proposal would also be a political fix and criticized the Legislature’s use of state reserve funds. Ventura’s budget plan would raise taxes, most notably on cigarettes and gas, and the governor glibly dismissed objections by saying Minnesotans could “choose not to pay (the taxes) by not buying those products.” What brilliant economic reasoning led Ventura to conclude the state’s economy would improve if cash-strapped citizens and businesses stopped driving their vehicles remains unclear.

Not content merely to criticize the Legislature’s budget, Ventura attacked the patriotism of lawmakers and citizens who disagreed with him. “I am asking Minnesotans to step up to the plate and be patriots instead of carpetbaggers,” he said, a statement that might well send the governor packing his own political carpetbag come November. Ventura also reminded lawmakers of his authority to cut budget items if the Legislature cannot balance the state’s books, leading House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, to remark that Ventura seeks to appoint himself “unilateral dictator of the state of Minnesota.”

“Why would the governor want to be confrontational on this?” Sviggum asked. Why indeed? The governor’s implication that the patriotic spirit of an outraged nation sides squarely with only his budget proposal is illogical, dilutes the importance of Sept. 11 and is a cheap insult to the lawmakers and citizens of this state who, like the governor, will always remember where they were when they first heard the news. Ventura’s own budget proposal cuts state anti-terrorism funds in half, making his comments uniquely irresponsible and exasperating.

Ventura is already the most overridden governor in the state’s history; the Legislature has overturned his vetoes six times. Lawmakers deserve public support for adding number seven to that tally.