Status of major issues in the 2002 Legislature as of Friday:
Abortion foes view this as a critical year because the House and Senate both lean their way. On their plate this year is a bill that establishes a 24-hour waiting period for abortions and another to cut off public funding for clinics that perform or promote abortions. The votes appear there to get such proposals through the House and Senate, but Gov. Jesse Ventura remains an obstacle to measures that restrict access to the procedure. There aren't the necessary two-thirds votes in either house to override a veto on abortion bills.
Gov. Jesse Ventura proposes issuing $746 million in general obligation bonds along with about $100 million that would be paid for by state colleges or taken from gas-tax collections. Among other projects, his plan spends the money on repairs and new buildings for state schools, a commuter train that would run between St. Cloud and Minneapolis, a new laboratory for the state departments of health and agriculture, and a bus system between Minneapolis and the northern suburbs. Yet there were plenty of requests -- about $1.25 billion worth -- that didn't get Ventura's nod. Those plans have a chance at life if they get the backing of Republicans or Democrats, who likely won't release a bonding plan for a month or more. Republicans say they plan to include more money for roads and bridges while Democrats say the state should issue closer to the maximum allowed, a little over $1 billion, in an effort to stimulate the state's economy.
This was supposed to be a short session for Minnesota -- one reserved mainly for funding capital construction projects. But it's not going to be that simple. The state's revenues are expected to fall nearly $2 billion short of what was budgeted during for current two-year bookkeeping period, meaning politicians must raise taxes, cut spending or both. Gov. Jesse Ventura has released his plan. House Republicans and Senate Democrats should be adding theirs to the mix soon.
With the state budget in tough shape, school groups see their main focus this year as hanging onto what they have. Gov. Jesse Ventura took a comparatively light touch with K-12 education in his "Big Fix" despite the fact it consumes more than one-third of the state budget. The governor would cut $92 million out of the K-12 budget in 2002-03, or about 1 percent. From higher education, he would trim $71 million, or 2.5 percent of their state funding. One of his recommendations is to do away with the sales-tax exemption schools and colleges have on purchases they make and some meals they serve.
Redistricting is unresolved so far in Minnesota -- the only state with three parties at the table, trying to defend their turf and maybe even grab a little more. It happens once each decade to coincide with the release of new census numbers. The goal is to make each legislative and congressional district represent roughly the same number of people. The DFL-controlled Senate, Republican-controlled House and a panel appointed by Independence Party Gov. Jesse Ventura each have submitted plans and reconciling them is a tall order. If the House and Senate can't agree on a set of maps or if Ventura doesn't approve the plans before March 19, an already-appointed court panel would step in and come up with a plan. The panel is holding meetings around the state to take input from citizens.
The pressure is on lawmakers on this thorny issue. Baseball's move to cut two teams -- with the Twins a prime candidate -- has politicians scrambling and has put the franchise's stadium hopes front and center. Several plans are out there and a tripartisan task force will forward its recommendations to the Legislature. Leaders say members should be prepared to vote on proposals for funding a $300 million ballpark. The Vikings are also in search of state help toward a $500 million stadium. The stadium fight could give life to another old issue where emotions run high: allowing state-sanctioned gambling off American Indian reservations.
Anti-terrorism efforts may be the only projects that get new funding this year. And interest groups know it. House Republicans and Senate Democrats say they're prepared to spend more than $20 million from the general treasury for equipment and training for police, firefighters and other first responders. Among his proposals, Ventura says he will seek to make it more difficult to get state identification cards and to shield some information from the public that might be helpful to terrorists. There will also be an effort to restore top-level hazardous-materials teams based in Duluth, Moorhead and Rochester that were eliminated in the last session of the Legislature. And on Democrats' list is a plan to upgrade the radio systems for police and emergency workers across the Twin Cities area.
Transportation is one of few areas spared from cuts in Gov. Jesse Ventura's budget plan. Ventura proposed a 5-cent increase to the current 20-cent a gallon gas tax. It would be the first increase in 13 years. He wants to use it to reduce the amount of general-fund money being sent to the highway trust fund, which means none of it would go to highway projects. House Republicans reject that idea. But, in a switch, GOP leaders say they may be open to the notion of some gas tax increase if it goes to roads instead of erasing the deficit. Senate Transportation Chairman Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, says despite the disputes, a gas tax increase has a better chance of passing this year than other taxes.
Gov. Jesse Ventura says his pet proposal will be back this year -- paring down the state Legislature from two bodies to one. He argues that it would save time and money. Nebraska currently is the only state with such a structure for its Legislature. The Legislature has shown little interest in this issue in the past.
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