ST. PAUL -- Three key state leaders were all smiles toward each other Tuesday but didn't show much disposition toward budging on political stands.
DFL Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum and Finance Commissioner Pam Wheelock addressed an Associated Press-sponsored legislative preview at the state Capitol three weeks before the 2002 legislative session convenes.
Moe was unhappy with much of last year's property tax package and said he hoped the same people he said were hurt by those changes would not be hurt this year as the state grapples with an anticipated $1.95 billion revenue shortfall. Sviggum pledged to stick by the 2001 property tax relief package and said the House would not raise taxes to balance the deficit. And Gov. Jesse Ventura's representative, Wheelock, said the administration would continue making the state's fiscal integrity its top priority.
All agreed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks had altered the political climate and changed some priorities. Sviggum noted few politicians had ever uttered the phrase "homeland security" before Sept. 11.
"When I was speaking about the homeland (before Sept. 11) I was speaking about Norway," the Kenyon farmer said with smile.
Sviggum said he wanted to maintain 2001's property tax reforms, find some permanent transportation funding for roads and bridges, institute an immediate state hiring freeze and consider a user fee-funding package for a new Twins stadium.
He said the House would have difficulty supporting a state employees' contract that extends domestic benefits to same-sex partners.
The House speaker said direct per-pupil aid to K-12 schools should be off limits in budget cuts. Although he wanted to help the Minnesota Twins, he admitted to being sick of professional sports, particularly in light of news of a loan agreement between a Carl Pohlad company and Baseball Commissioner and Milwaukee Brewers owner Bud Selig.
"My guts tell me there was a deal done (between the two owners) a long time ago," he said. "I could bet you my farm on it."
While a Twins stadium was not high on Sviggum's agenda he said it should be looked at.
"Any package has to fall short of the state writing out a check," he said.
Moe advocated using leverage to obtain federal funds for safety and security measures resulting after the terrorist attacks. He also wants to see an aggressive transportation and bonding bill to put people back to work. He's anticipating the release of Ventura's blueprint to solve the budget deficit on Thursday.
"I hope it doesn't penalize people who were already penalized from that tax bill last summer," Moe said.
Moe said Ventura has taken too critical a tone with local governments and should acknowledge that they and the state are inseparable partners in providing services to Minnesotans.
"This governor approaches it by villainizing them and attacking them," Moe said.
The majority leader said circumstances have pushed the stadium issue down on the priority list but that he expects a stadium task force to provide lawmakers with some direction.
"I think you're either a major league state or you're not a major league state," he said.
Wheelock, the state finance commissioner, said Ventura will be tenacious about maintaining the state's credit rating and eliminating the deficit. She declined to provide specifics on the governor's blueprint in advance of his Thursday announcement but said there were no easy choices this year.
"Everything is fair game but not everything should be treated equally," she said.
While not revealing what the governor will call for this week, she characterized a flat-out state hiring freeze as a blunt tool that could potentially weaken the state in high priority areas such as fighting biological terrorism.
The Legislature convenes at noon Jan. 29.
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