ST. PAUL (AP) -- Gov. Jesse Ventura takes his turn today detailing how he believes the additional $229 million projected surplus should be spent.
The state Finance Department announced the surplus Tuesday.
Speaking to reporters in Washington, D.C., where he was attending the National Governors Association meeting, Ventura emphasized caution.
''This is a projection, isn't it?'' Ventura said. ''It's not money in the bank ... If the economy twists and turns, then those projections are meaningless.''
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 remain stable.
''I'm here today to tell you that the ship is on course and we're forecasting slightly more cargo,'' said Finance Commissioner Pam Wheelock, continuing a nautical metaphor she started last December when she announced a $1.6 billion surplus and said the state had a ''boatload'' of money.
Within an hour of Wheelock's announcement, Republicans and DFL Senate leaders stepped up their campaigns on what to do with the money. Republicans favor bigger tax cuts, while DFLers prefer more modest cuts coupled with spending on education.
All sides have agreed roughly to a $500 million sales tax rebate, but an excited House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, stood with more than 60 Republicans outside Ventura's office to say he wants to move on to bigger business.
''Rebates, schmeebates, forget rebates,'' he said. ''We've got to reduce tax burdens on the people of Minnesota.''
Sviggum said he was drawing an imaginary ''line in the granite'' and delivering a message to the governor on the surplus that ''enough is enough.'' As for tax cuts, he said, ''Now. It's got to be done now.''
When told of the gathering outside of his office, Ventura ridiculed the Republicans.
''Just like 'em to show up when I'm gone,'' he said. ''Timing's everything, right? Remember, this an election-year feeding frenzy ... Their main focus is naturally, how do I get re-elected?''
Ventura already proposed capping license tab fees at $75 and investing in transportation, and he has said he wants to save the bulk of the money for a property tax overhaul in the 2001 session.
Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, DFL-Erskine, tried to claim the middle ground in outlining his plan, including increasing the personal income tax exemption by $400 to $3,200. His caucus already supports more modest auto tab fee cuts than Ventura. Moe wasn't prepared to talk about a complete package but estimated it would be worth about $250 million annually.
Moe repeatedly called his plan the ''centrist'' one between Ventura's and the House GOP's. The DFL also wants to spend significantly on education as a way to keep the state competitive.
In contrast, House Republicans would again shave the same percentages off the three income tax rates as last year. That would drop the middle rate three-fourths of a percentage point to 6.5 percent. The top and bottom rates would drop a half-percentage point to 7.5 percent and 5.5 percent.
GOP leaders say their plan would cost $1.35 billion through the current budget cycle, and another $1.6 billion in the following two years.
Wheelock considers that ''unaffordable.'' Sviggum said it is affordable, but he acknowledged a willingness to negotiate.
With all 201 legislators facing re-election in November, lawmakers will be looking for a cut to call their own. It is highly unlikely they will want to leave as much on the table as Ventura proposed.
The surplus is the 16th consecutive. In December, forecasters adjusted their methods to remove any expectation of an economic downturn. That change makes huge surpluses less likely and falling short of expectations easier.
''It would not take anything dramatic to underperform the forecast,'' said state economist Tom Stinson, who helped put the projection together. ''There are no guarantees that revenues will continue to exceed the forecast.''
Stinson said tax cuts are unlikely to significantly alter the course of the state economy.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.