ST. PAUL -- A day after House and Senate leaders agreed on a way to fix the state budget deficit and possibly push Gov. Jesse Ventura to the sideline, House Speaker Steve Sviggum was courting DFL support of the bill.
House Republicans and both Senate Democrats and Republicans endorsed the budget deal Tuesday. But if Ventura were to veto it, House Republicans would need some Democrats to vote with them to get the two-thirds majority needed to override him.
House Democrats didn't immediately go along with the compromise, putting themselves in a powerful position to sway the budget battle. The leader of the House Democrats, Tom Pugh of South St. Paul, said most of them have "grave concerns" about the House-Senate compromise, chiefly because it would cut education funding.
Sviggum, R-Kenyon, said he was requesting a meeting with the House DFL caucus to get them on board.
"My goal is to appeal to them to not be the governor's last hope to slash school funding," Sviggum said, referring to Ventura's power to cut spending by himself if the Legislature fails to agree on a budget solution, an outcome many legislators fear.
The compromise splits the difference between what the House, led by Republicans, and Senate, led by Democrats, previously proposed to close a projected $1.95 billion gap in the two-year state budget ending in June 2003. It avoids raising taxes and cuts spending by $374.2 million.
But legislators also moved to take Ventura, who belongs to a third party and proposed raising taxes to help fix the deficit, out of the debate.
Ventura, however, will remain a factor unless House DFLers agree to support the bill.
"The risk of what Governor Ventura may do is something we have to balance," Pugh said of Ventura's special budget-cutting powers.
Committee chairmen met until 4:30 a.m. Wednesday to finish putting the package together.
Ventura's spokesman, John Wodele, said the governor doesn't believe the legislators' compromise is fiscally sound. Wodele declined to speculate whether Ventura would veto it.
Ventura asked Finance Commissioner Pam Wheelock to contact Wall Street bond-rating agencies to get a read on how the proposal would affect Minnesota's top credit rating, Wodele said.
Legislative leaders said they aim to put the bill on Ventura's desk as early as Thursday. But rapid movement is rare on such important legislation. "I'm sure there'll be lots of snags," Sviggum said.
And, beyond hammering out budget details, legislators must find enough common ground to succeed in the political gambit of marginalizing Ventura.
Since Ventura's 1998 election stunned the state political establishment, the Independence Party governor has held sway over the divided Legislature. In his first year, Ventura sided with Democrats on weighting income-tax cuts to the middle class. Last year, he sided with Republicans in reforming property taxes.
If Ventura vetoed the budget compromise and withstood override attempts, his own deficit-reduction proposal -- making $700 million in cuts, raising $400 million in taxes and using $650 million in reserves -- might gain traction.
At the least, he could order a stop of spending that's already been authorized for the two-year budget cycle, a move known as unallotment.
Sviggum said that's the risk House Democrats face by not going along with the compromise.
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