ST. PAUL -- Gov. Jesse Ventura delivered a strong, Republican-sounding message of tax cuts and limited spending in his two-year, $27.3 billion budget, released Tuesday.
"I am not asking that we change our Minnesota standards of good public services, I am asking that we don't create expectations in good times that can't be sustained once the economic sky gets a little cloudy," he said.
The major tax cut proposals include a sales tax rebate of $925 million, an income tax reduction of 0.5 percent over two years, and a reduction in the state sales tax to 6 percent from 6.5 percent. The sales tax would be broadened to include services, but would still exempt food, clothing and heating fuels.
"Generally speaking, the budget the governor has presented to us is one we can work with," said House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, adding that it would need "some massaging." Sviggum said House Republicans were not likely to support any broadening of any tax.
Ventura acknowledged that extending the sales tax would be controversial -- and not just with lawmakers.
"There's a long list of lobbyists that are already throwing grenades at this recommendation," he said.
But he said this is the time to recognize a shift in the way the economy works.
The budget document fills in the details of the broad policy goals Ventura outlined in late 1999. This is the budget he wants to make his mark with. The trick will be selling it as an intricately woven package, something that the governor has said repeatedly is crucial to its passage.
Dean Barkley, Ventura adviser and director of the Minnesota Planning Agency, acknowledged that the challenge would be "the tough sales job of keeping this whole."
"Quite frankly, if you take out one piece, the whole thing starts to fall apart," Barkley said.
Senate Minority Leader Dick Day said he agreed with 90 percent of what Ventura proposed, but it was unrealistic to request that lawmakers not pick his package apart.
"This is the Legislature," said Day, R-Owatonna. "We do that."
Several times, Ventura has compared his budget to a sweater -- pull one string and a whole arm could unravel.
"The speaker and I want to tell him, 'Yeah, but if you lop off the other arm, you have a nice vest. You don't necessarily have to have a one-armed sweater,"' said House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty, R-Eagan.
The budget holds new spending to about $2.71 billion, or 5.4 percent, for the 2002-03 biennium -- a stance sure to disappoint many nonprofit groups and state agencies.
Nearly everyone hoped this year to grab a slice of the projected $3.01 billion surplus through 2003, a number that may fall a bit when the February forecast is released.
Property taxes, which Ventura has long wanted to restructure, would be reduced by nearly $800 million in 2003. Most property taxes that fund schools would be eliminated as the state assumes most of the costs of K-12 education funding.
Ventura also proposes cutting the motor vehicle registration tax gradually, working toward a maximum of $75 beginning in 2004.
The reception from Senate Democrats was cool.
"The governor has indicated that he is proposing a budget that reflects what the taxpayers want," said Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, DFL-Erskine. "All I can say is let the hearings begin."
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Doug Johnson, DFL-Cook, said the tax cuts look great, but he's concerned about inadequate funding for education, transportation, natural resources and health care.
"He ran for governor as a populist and attracted votes from low- and middle-income workers," Johnson said. "In this budget, I'm worried that he has responded too much to the right wing radio talk show hosts."
Other parts of the plan would eliminate the wholesale prescription drug tax and HMO premium tax, deposit some of the 1998 tobacco settlement money into an endowment to improve the health of children, increase the Working Family Credit and extend the welfare cutoff date for some Minnesotans.
The biggest new spending items will be:
--$260 million in pay increases for state employees
--$103 million to further link Minnesota's criminal justice systems and improve electronic services of state government
--$60 million to increase job training funds, increase financial aid, create a performance incentive pool for teachers and recruit more teachers
--$50 million to reduce health disparities for minorities, prevent teen pregnancy and expand health coverage for children
Ventura also proposes shifting the state's focus from long-term nursing homes and prisons to community care programs and correctional programs.
And in an unusual move, he also submitted a request to issue bonds for $504 million in projects. That usually is reserved for the second year of a biennium, but Ventura has said he wants the Legislature to complete its usual two years of work in one.
House and Senate leaders agree that isn't likely to happen -- at least not this year.
On the Net:
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.