ST. PAUL -- Civic and business leaders at last year's Minnesota Rural Summit heard Gov. Jesse Ventura declare an end to the day of government bailouts. This year, he's putting their fiscal laundry on display.
The Ventura administration will carry to this week's summit in Rochester a report that details what money went where over the last decade. It's his way of showing that state government has tried to solve rural problems -- sometimes too much.
"It's going to be a very real eye opener, the amount that has been spent out there and where it is going," Ventura told The Associated Press in an interview last week.
Ventura says his goal isn't to single out regions or cause friction among them. He says he wants to convince legislators to abandon what he sees as a one-size-fits-all approach to greater Minnesota, and he wants local officials to confine budget requests to the most pressing needs.
Right now, he said, the state is spreading its resources too thin.
Ventura is skipping the summit to celebrate his 25th wedding anniversary, but he dispatched 10 key agency heads to round up advice and ask leaders from each region to describe what they need most from the state.
He said the report -- containing demographic, income and employment statistics and details about how much each region has drawn from several state accounts since 1990 -- can serve as their guide.
"We want to show them facts so they can then come forward with suggestions from each region based upon facts and not just simply based upon pork," Ventura said.
For instance, Minnesota's central region could make the case for more workforce development funds to stem its need for unemployment benefits. From 1990 to 1999, the 14-county area paid $654 million in unemployment, the highest of any outstate region.
The report includes the amount each region received for each tax dollar its residents put in. In 1998, the most recent year available, northwest Minnesota pulled in $1.61 for every dollar it contributed. People in southeastern Minnesota got 94 cents back.
Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, DFL-Erskine, said such figures are important information. But they shouldn't be taken at face value, he said.
"I certainly hope it's not used to pit one region off against the other," Moe said. "There are regions in our state that have economic growth. They have higher-income people, they have higher-valued property. So yes, they're going to end up putting more money into the formulas than they get out of them."
Duane Benson, executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership, said Ventura is making the "most comprehensive attempt" he's seen from any administration to get an overall picture of state spending.
"It's been somewhat piecemeal before," Benson said. "It's been somewhat disjointed."
At the summit, regional officials will meet with commissioners of agriculture, finance, trade, commerce, education, transportation and a few other agencies. With all the department heads pressing them at once, Benson said local officials might be forced to set priorities "based on needs, rather than back up the truck and dump as much as you can in all the streams."
Ventura's commissioners will discuss the report Monday. The summit officially begins Tuesday morning and runs through Wednesday.
On the Net:
Minnesota Rural Summit http://www.minnesotaruralpartners.org/summit.htm
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