ST. PAUL (AP) -- Reaction was mixed as Minnesota legislative leaders and school officials considered Gov. Jesse Ventura's ambitious proposal to remove K-12 schools from the local property tax bill.
The caution reflected the lack of details in tax changes Ventura has so far proposed to make the plan happen, as well as concerns among some education leaders about the school reforms it may inspire.
"The devil is in the details," said Rep. Alice Seagren, R-Bloomington, head of the House K-12 Education Finance Division.
Ventura and his education, revenue and finance commissioners laid out the plan during an interview with the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, published Sunday. The governor acknowledged that the plan is not fully formed.
Ventura said that the state should take over 100 percent of basic education costs as a means of simplifying the tax system and K-12 funding.
"These are broad pictures," he said in the interview. "There is nothing I've set on, nothing that is written in stone. It's just that we want to take a hard look at making a tax system that we think is more equitable, more fair and, most importantly, easier."
But while the governor said the shift would be a priority during the 2001 legislative session, administration officials cautioned that it would leave a $900 million-a-year budget shortage.
Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, DFL-Erskine, said Sunday that the DFL shares Ventura's desire to cut property taxes and to increase state school funding.
However, Moe and Rep. Ron Abrams, R-Minnetonka, chairman of the House Taxes Committee, said that it's too early to get behind -- or reject -- a plan that has the proposed end result as its only concrete element.
"You don't have both sides of the equal sign here," Moe said.
He added, however, that he is willing to wait and listen: "They deserve an opportunity to lay out the whole package," he said.
House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, on Monday said Republicans will oppose any plan to pay for the proposal that includes extending the state sales tax to food and clothes or that eliminates state funding aid to local governments.
House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty also warned that Republicans would be wary of any new taxes on services. He said such a move could drive businesses from the state.
If lawmakers go along with the idea, the shift would be the biggest change in Minnesota's tax system since 1971, when the state increased its share of K-12 funding to 65 percent, from 43 percent. That increase reduced property taxes up to 20 percent.
Vernae Hasbargen, executive director of the Minnesota Rural Education Association, and Bob Meeks, lobbyist for the Minnesota School Boards Association, were divided Sunday on the merit of moving to full state funding of K-12 schools.
"We've felt strongly that it's the best guarantee we have for equal opportunity for all kids in the state," said Hasbargen.
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