ST. PAUL -- An additional projected budget surplus of $229 million makes it even more likely that Minnesotans will get tax relief from the Legislature this year.
State Finance Commissioner Pam Wheelock called the projection a ''modest'' increase over the $1.6 billion surplus announced in December.
''I'm here today to tell you that the ship is on course and we're forecasting slightly more cargo,'' Wheelock said, continuing her nautical comparison of the state economy.
The surplus is the amount projected to be in the state treasury at the end of the current budget cycle, June 30, 2001, if revenue and spending remained stable.
What to do with the $1.8 billion will be a point of heated debate in coming months. Gov. Jesse Ventura wants to save most for next year, while lawmakers are eager to provide election-year tax cuts. Wheelock declined to specify how the money should be used, deferring to Ventura, who was out of state and planned a Wednesday news conference.
Ventura has previously said he wants to cap vehicle registration fees at $75, spend some money on transportation and save the bulk of it for a property tax overhaul in the 2001 session.
The catch is that lawmakers rarely leave too much money on the table, and this year all 201 legislators face re-election. Legislators are eager to provide tax cuts rather than save money for next year when some of them won't be back.
All sides already have agreed to a sales tax rebate worth roughly $500 million, although the details have yet to be determined.
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