ST. PAUL -- Throw out the civics book. Something from the fiction section might be more appropriate for a current guide to how a bill becomes a law in Minnesota.
The latest chapter in a surreal budget battle -- with billions of dollars for state programs and services at stake -- is written this week.
The window for Gov. Jesse Ventura to act on the Legislature's deficit-reduction bill expires early this week. Precisely when is in dispute.
Legislators say he has until midnight Monday to sign or veto the bill or it will become law by default. That would be three working days after they tried to get it to him. Ventura insists he has 24 hours more, based on when he actually got it.
One lawmaker has already threatened to sue if Ventura tries to slip a veto through on Tuesday.
On Thursday, the Legislature approved a no-new-taxes plan to close a $1.95 billion gap in the 2002-03 budget crafted without any help from Ventura's administration. Ventura argues his proposal is more responsible because it fully addresses budget problems years into the future and includes deeper spending cuts and tax increases.
When it came time to deliver the bill, he and the staff members designated to accept it were gone.
Thursday night's harried search for Ventura -- at the Capitol, the governor's mansion and his private ranch -- got the clock running, legislative leaders say. Ventura disagrees.
How it plays out will determine how big of a problem confronts legislators.
It's almost certain that the budget hole the Legislature and Ventura have been struggling with will get bigger anyway.
State economists were set to release a new budget forecast as early as Monday and by Wednesday at the latest. And most lawmakers expect it will show Minnesota's deficit has grown.
Since December, officials have been working under the assumption that the state budget will be $1.95 billion short come June 2003. A hoped-for uptick in the state economy hasn't materialized, and January figures showed tax collections were $72 million behind projections.
Other divisive issues confront legislators this week, too:
-- On Monday, the Senate Tax Committee takes another stab at a Twins stadium bill, which was bogged down in discussions last week over whether any proposal should be put to a referendum in the stadium's host city.
Some lawmakers say they won't vote for a stadium bill that doesn't include a referendum. But others want the Legislature to make a final decision now so baseball won't go ahead with a plan to eliminate the Twins in the fall.
The bill is Senate File 1857.
-- Also Monday, a House committee will consider a bill that would strip the Legislature of its duty to ratify state employee contracts. A similar measure is moving through the Senate.
Currently, the administration negotiates the agreements with unions and the Legislature must ratify them, usually a rubber-stamp process. But this year the contracts are mired in a moral debate because they include insurance coverage for gay partners of state workers. The House is poised to reject them, which could result in a strike.
For now, the change would apply only to future contracts. But the bill's sponsor, Rep. Dave Bishop, R-Rochester, wouldn't rule out an amendment that would make the change retroactive.
"We are on the fence on a major issue and any vehicle that can get us off the fence one way or another should be considered," he said.
The bill is House File 3575.
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